What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea and How Is It Treated?

What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea and How Is It Treated?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a medical condition which can cause snoring. Treatment is important because the consequences can be serious. During deep sleep the muscles of the airways become relaxed. They close briefly, limiting the flow of air. This results in the sufferer stopping breathing for a few moments. There may be snoring, choking or gurgling sounds. See-sawing of the chest and abdomen before the sufferer partially or fully awakes. This raises the tone in the airways and they open up letting normal breaths continue.

Sleep deepens again and the cycle continues. This may happen many times per sleep period. Somnolence, sleepiness and tiredness during the day may occur. Grumpiness, relationship problems, anxiety and depression can occur. Without treatment individuals may be so tired that they go to sleep at bad times. For instance, whilst driving or at work.

The condition obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is more likely in those who have a high BMI. This means they are obese or overweight. If they smoke, have diabetes, have large necks or who have recently used alcohol these are risk factors too. It's important that support from a medical practitioner is sought. This is because the condition is related to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Simple conservative treatments are available such as supportive anti-snoring pillows. These hold the head and jaw in a position which reduces closure of the airways during sleep. Anti-snoring mouth-guards are also known as mandibular advancement splints. They work by lifting the jaw forwards and holding the tongue away from the back wall of the throat. If conservative management is unsuccessful your doctor may send you to a sleep disorder specialist. They will carry out an examination and consider further treatment. Options include a CPAP mask (continuous positive air pressure). This consists of a tight-fitting mask worn whilst asleep. It is connected to an air compressor which raises the pressure in the airways, preventing them from closing.

Sleeping partners of those with OSA may enjoy a good pair of sleeping ear plugs to block the sound of snoring. ZenPlugs Molded ear plugs are especially designed to be comfortable at night in bed.  They don't protrude from the sides of the head so won't press into your ears when you roll over. Because they are molded they stay in well and block noise effectively. A white noise machine to mask the sound of snoring can also help them to sleep.

Surgical treatments are available, including lasering of the soft palette. This reduces the amount of tissue at the back of the throat and makes it less likely to close whilst sleeping.

Sufferers of obstructive sleep apnea should seek professional medical advice as soon as possible. Conservative measures such as control of weight, stopping smoking and reducing alcohol intake help. If these are unsuccessful a trial of CPAP may be attempted. Surgical treatment is usually a last resort.

It is important that sufferers visit their doctor to get treatment to improve their quality of life. This will also reduce their risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

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