Sleeping disorders are common among many Americans. Sleep apnea is one of the most potentially serious sleep disorders that affects more than 18 million Americans, according to the National Sleep Foundation. This condition typically occurs during sleep when there is an involuntary cessation of breathing. People of all ages and both genders are affected by this affliction.
OSA and Snoring
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most chronic and common type of sleeping disorder that affects breathing due to the relaxation of the muscles in the back of the throat. Several signs and symptoms exist with OSA. Individuals suffering from this sleeping disorder may make snoring, gasping or choking sounds during sleep. These sounds may occur repeatedly 5 to 30 times or more each hour throughout the night. The most cardinal symptom is loud snoring. Snoring is noisy breathing that occurs during sleep, which may be found to be intolerable by sleep partners. It is the most common symptom of sleep apnea, although not all people who snore have this sleeping disorder. Snoring occurs when the throat muscles relax, the tongue falls backward and the throat becomes narrow. The walls of the throat vibrate as you breathe. This occurs primarily when you inhale, but can also happen to a lesser degree when you exhale. The sleeper is partially aroused to resume breathing by the brain, which causes them to have poor sleep.
OSA Risk Factors
Although, OSA can affect people of all ages, certain factors can increase risks:
- Age - People age 40 and over are at higher risk.
- Excess weight - An obstruction of breathing can be caused by fat deposits around the upper airway.
- Being male - More likely to occur in males than females.
- Family history - The risk of developing sleep apnea is greater for people who have family members with this condition.
- Race - More predominant in black Americans.
- Use of alcohol - This type of beverage relaxes the throat muscles.
- Smoking - Smoking can cause inflammation and fluid retention in the airway.
- Neck circumference - The airway may become narrower with a thicker neck.
- Narrowed airway - Enlarged adenoids or tonsils or a naturally narrow throat.
- Nasal congestion - If you have difficulty breathing through your nose, your chances of developing OSA is greater.
Individuals who have OSA often have comorbid conditions, such as excessive daytime sleepiness and trouble concentrating. Furthermore, they have a higher risk for motor vehicle accidents, hypertension, coronary artery disease, diabetes mellitus and strokes.
Seek a Sleep Specialist
It is likely that you may be unaware of your snoring; therefore, it is important to seek treatment if snoring is observed by your sleep partner. Individuals are often referred for evaluations by their doctor or primary care physician. However, if you do not have a primary care physician, you can go directly to a sleep specialist. Currently, some medical professionals, such as neurologists, psychiatrists, otolaryngologists, pulmonologists and primary care physicians (usually internists or family practitioners) serve as sleep specialists. Furthermore, some dentists specialize in treating sleep-disordered breathing.
Diagnosis involves a definitive sleep study, which is conducted in an overnight sleep lab. However, special equipment can be used to conduct a sleep study at home. The gold standard for testing is called a polysomnography. This method of testing consists of several records of sleep activity, which are recorded during the sleep study. Certain tests that are conducted are an electroencephalogram (EEG), electroculogram (EOG), and electrocardiogram (EKG).
- Positional Therapy -Avoid lying on your back during sleep. A body that is positioned on its side helps to reduce or eliminate airway blockage.
- Weight Loss - Losing weight can lead to less or lighter snoring.
- Nasal Decongestant - This is most effective in mild sleep apnea or snoring. In some cases, however, improved airflow is most effectively achieved by surgery.
- Surgery (children) - Surgical removal of throat tissues, such as adenoids, enlarged tonsils or both.
- Surgery (adult) - Surgery is less effective in treating OSA, but is effective in treating snoring. Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, or UPPP, is the most common type of surgery for snoring.
- Oral Appliances - Some oral appliances resemble the mouthguards worn by football players. These appliances are worn during sleep. The lower jaw is slightly positioned forward in the usual resting position, enabling the airway to remain open.
- Positive Airway Pressure Devices - A wide variety of breathing masks are used with these devices. The breathing masks are worn securely over the sleeper's nose, or mouth and nose. Pressurized air flows continuously in the sleeper's throat, which prevent the airway from collapsing. A flexible tube enables pressurized air to flow from one of several types of devices to include: CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), BiPAP (bilevel positive airway pressure) and VPAP (variable positive airway pressure).