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Sleep Apnea: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Sleep Apnea Treatment

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common sleep disorder. This is mainly characterized by repeated upper airway disturbances during sleep, which causes breathing to stop for some seconds, throughout the night. This interrupted breathing causes a significant drop in oxygen levels in the blood, resulting in an episode of Apnea. People who suffer from OSA may snort, or gasp loudly as the breathing resumes during sleep. It can also cause choking due to obstructed airway.

What are the major causes for OSA?

There are several factors that contribute to the onset of OSA in people. These ranges from your bodyweight, to the formation and shape of your tongue.

  • Being overweight can cause obstructive Sleep Apnea, as soft and fat tissues tend to thicken the walls of the windpipe, which obstructs the pathway of air.
  • Your tongue size can also cause OSA. If the tongue is thicker or larger than the opening in the windpipe, it will disrupt the passage of air into the windpipe, making it difficult to breathe while you are asleep.
  • A condition called deviated septum can also trigger OSA among many individuals. Deviated septum is a result of the deviated bone and cartilage (septum), that divide the nasal cavity into half - is placed off-centre or is crooked. This disrupts your normal breathing. However, only severe conditions of imbalance of the septum lead to OSA1.
  • Smoking and alcohol are also associated with several forms of breathing problems and can be a trigger to cause problems like OSA.
  • Ageing also effects breathing patterns. Ageing weakens the ability of the brain signals to indicate the throat muscles, to stay stiff while you are asleep. The airway either narrows or collapses because of this, giving rise to OSA.
  • Other medical conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes are also causal factors of breathing issues in OSA.

What are the symptoms OSA?

OSA is a condition that occurs when you are asleep. Therefore, it can be difficult to recognize its symptoms on your own. However, knowing the indications of OSA helps in the better understanding of this sleep disorder.

Symptoms of OSA while sleeping:

  • Loud snoring - Snoring can also be a symptom of Central Sleep Apnea (CSA), but in OSA it is more prominent and louder.
  • Breathing cessation - People suffering from OSA experience difficulties in breathing during sleep, and there are episodes of choking or gasping, several times during sleep.
  • Restlessness - The person might find it difficult to stay asleep, or may be restless during sleep, if distressed by OSA.
  • Suddenly waking up - Due to loss of breath, the person might wake up feeling choked causing a break in sleep.
  • Frequent visits to bathroom
  • Frequently wake up to drink water

Symptoms of OSA during daytime:

  • Day time sleepiness - Waking up feeling low on energy, and feeling sleep-deprived isn’t a good feeling and it indicates an improper sleep.
  • Morning headaches - Bad headaches every morning after waking up signals OSA. Due to low oxygen levels, blood vessels can widen up causing these headaches.
  • Dry throat - Dry or sore throat on awakening are the signs of OSA. Dry mouth can be a result of breathing through mouth.
  • Mood swings - Feelings of irritation and anxiety are due to OSA.Not getting quality sleep almost every night can make a person irritated or susceptible to these mood swings. If not attended on time, this can even lead to depression.
  • Loss of attention - OSA affects cognitive functions, making it difficult for a person to concentrate for long, and even cause amnesia for some.

How do I know if I have OSA?

Apart from all the above-mentioned points, there are a few other ways that can help you diagnose the severity of OSA. These methods are diagnostic tests such as - polysomnography (PSG) and home sleep test (HST)

Home Sleep Test (HST)

While PSG is an elaborate complex test performed at hospitals for all kinds of sleep disorders, HST is very specific for Obstructive Sleep Apnea and can be performed at the comfort of one’s own bed at their home, making it affordable too. The test was made accessible for patients after the American Academy of Sleep Medicine approved its use for diagnostic purpose in 2009. The HST device is very simple to use and can used by yourself or with the help of service provider. The device records the total number of episodes of cessation of breath resulting in drop of oxygen levels during your sleep. With the advancement of technology, treatment options have become quite vast, which makes dealing with Sleep Apnea, a lot easier.

What are the treatment options?

Proper diagnosis can help you get the suitable treatment, based on your condition for OSA. There are a lot of options available for the treatment of OSA, based on the severity of the condition.

Non-invasive treatment methods:

  • CPAP therapy - Control positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is the most commonly used treatment options for sleep problems such as OSA. The CPAP machine keeps your throat from collapsing, due to lack of air for breathing. This is done by gently blowing pressurized air through your airway.
  • Oral devices - Certain oral/dental devices are also adopted as treatment methods for OSA. Mandibular advancement device (MAD) and tongue retaining device are some of the options. MAD shifts the lower jaw to front, making it easier to breathe by opening the airway. A tongue retaining device does the same, by moving the tongue forward as you sleep.

Invasive (Surgical) treatment methods:

Surgery is required only in cases where extra tissues in your throat or nose block the airway. Enlarged tonsils, and deviated septum are few of the conditions that would require surgery as a treatment option for curing OSA. The methods for surgeries differs, depending on the place of origin of OSA and the condition of it among people. Nasal surgery, Mandibular Advancement surgery, and UP3 are some of the types of surgeries performed to cure OSA.


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