Are your snores not allowing your partner to have a pleasant sleep? It’s time you should wake up; as it can disturb not only your partner but your quality of life too. Noisy snores are important symptom of an overlooked disease called obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a condition in which the respiration (flow of air) is paused or disturbed while sleeping because the airway has become narrowed or blocked.
Why OSA occurs?
While sleeping, all our muscles are in relaxed condition and it is also true for the muscles of wind pipe (trachea and bronchi). As the muscles of wind pipe are relaxed, passage of airway becomes narrower. In some persons this process may lead to partial and complete blockade of the airway leading to stoppage of breathing (apnea) for a period of time (generally more than 10 seconds). The air squeezes through the narrowed or blocked making the sound of snores.
OSA can occur to anybody regardless of gender or age. However, there are certain factors which may increase the risk of developing OSA.
- Narrower (Shorter) throat area
- Large tonsils
- Thicker neck area
- Large tongue that may block the airway
How do I know if I am having OSA?
Snoring is the primary symptom of OSA, which your partner/family member will obviously tell you. However, it is not necessary that person who snores is compulsorily suffering from OSA. Brain of people suffering from OSA does not get enough rest during sleep as it continuously tries to keep the airway open while the patient is sleeping. Hence, patient with sleep apnea often suffer from excessive day time sleeping (EDS).
Symptoms of Excessive day time sleeping (EDS):
- Feeling of sleepiness and drowsiness throughout the day
- Falling a sleep while performing some activity (Watching TV, Reading or even during driving)
So, it can be said that if you are suffering from snoring and EDS you may have OSA. OSA can be confirmed by a sleep study (polysomnogram) which will measure the activity of your brain while you are sleeping.
Harmful consequences of OSA
OSA is not only about snoring; researchers have found that OSA can lead to development fatal consequences.
- 1. Cardiovascular problems
- a. High blood pressure
- b. Heart attack
- c. Heart failure
- d. Stroke
- 2. Metabolic disorders
- a. Diabetes
- 3. Neurological problems
- a. Forgetfulness
- b. Daytime sleeping
- c. Depression
Is there any treatment for OSA?
The first and primary thing to control any disease is to change your lifestyle. However, lifestyle changes may not have much impact on OSA as it is more of an anatomical problem than a physiological problem. Still some precautions can be taken:
Weight Reduction: Helpful for obese and overweight patients
Stop Smoking: Smoking is known to cause inflammation of airway which may worsen the OSA.
Increase sleeping time: If possible, take a bit longer sleep than regular that may help your brain more time to be relaxed. Maintaining regular sleep schedule may also help.
Do not sleep on your back: Sleeping on your back increases the problem. Try to sleep on either of your side that will reduce the episodes of apnea and snoring.
Researchers are trying to find a medication that can heal the problem but still no major breakthrough has been developed. Nasal decongestant might help to reduce mild snoring but the severe OSA cannot be treated by such medications.
Certain devices are developed that can help keeping the airway while you are sleeping. All this devices are working mechanically and hence there is no danger of any side effects with these devices.
They are like mouth guards worn by rugby players. It is proven that while snoring if you pull your lower jaw slightly forward, snoring is stopped. Oral appliances are working on the same principal. These are helpful for the patients with shorter lower jaw.
Positive Airway Pressure (PAP):
These are the variety of breathing masks that pump the air into airway with positive pressure are available. The positive pressure of the air prevents the airway from collapsing and patient has peaceful sleep. These masks are popular among the patients and physicians. Studies are also supporting the use of PAP masks as it has been found that regular use of these masks reduces the harmful consequences of OSA. Some examples of PAP masks are, CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), BiPAP (bilevel positive airway pressure), VPAP (variable positive airway pressure) etc.
Surgery should always be the last option for treatment of OSA. Surgeries to increase the dimensions of your airway are possible. Surgeons will remove tonsils, uvula or other extra tissues that may be blocking the airway. However, success rate of these surgeries is only 50%. This is because there are multiple sites which might be blocking the airway and if the overall passage of your airway is narrower it cannot be changed. Surgery should be preferred only if other choices are not helping you. You should always talk to the surgeon regarding probable outcome of the surgery before going to the operation.