What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder in which there are pauses in breathing or shallow breaths taken whilst asleep. It is often characterised by snoring and daytime sleepiness.

It is a chronic problem that affects the quality of sleep. This can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness due to poor quality sleep.

The types of sleep apnea include:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea: This is the most common type of sleep apnea and occurs because of obstruction in the airway preventing sufficient flow of air. Obstructive sleep apnea affects 24% of middle aged men and 9% of middle aged women. Obstructive sleep apnea if left untreated may lead to complications such as hypertension, heart failure, heart rhythm disturbances, atherosclerotic heart disease, pulmonary hypertension, stroke and diabetes. Severe sleep apnea is seen in about 5% of men and 3% of women. It is therefore important to recognise and manage sleep apnea to optimise your daily health and wellbeing.
  • Central sleep apnea: Central sleep apnea is less common and is seen in people on certain medications or with other medical conditions such as heart or respiratory disease. This type of apnea occurs when the signals from the brain to the muscles of respiration are interrupted.
  • Mixed sleep apnea: This is a combination of both central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea.

How is Sleep Apnea diagnosed?

Your partner may have noticed you having episodes of gasping or choking during the night. To diagnose sleep apnea and determine how severe it is, an overnight sleep study is essential.

It is a comprehensive study which records your sleep pattern, breathing and oxygen levels to diagnose the presence and severity of the sleep apnea.

How can Sleep Apnea be treated?

Sleep apnea may be treated by:

Behavioural changes: This includes losing weight if overweight, avoiding alcohol or sedative medications, smoking cessation and changing sleeping positions.

Nasal devices and medications: Nasal steroid sprays may be used to decrease the inflammation in the nasal passages. Adhesive nasal patches are available which can be placed over the nose to help overcome snoring and mild sleep apnea.

Dental devices: Dental devices hold the jaw forward and these devices may be used for snoring and mild to moderate sleep apnea.

CPAP (Continuous positive airway pressure): CPAP is a pump that provides positive airway pressure via a mask to gently hold the airway open during sleep. This is the most effective form of treatment for sleep apnea.

Surgical treatment: Surgery may be needed to correct anatomic abnormalities. These procedures are designed to optimise the upper airway size and shape.

Do I have Sleep Apnea?

Recognised risk factors for sleep apnea include:

  • Male gender
  • Increasing age
  • BMI> 30
  • Neck Circumference> 42cm
  • Enlarged tonsils
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Sleeping Tablets
  • Post menopause

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