My sleep apnoea causes me to stop breathing while I’m sleeping. Is this dangerous?

With more and more people now being aware of obstructive sleep apnoea, which has a rapidly growing number of sufferers, this is now a question that is asked often. However, approximately 80% of those who are believed to have obstructive sleep apnoea, commonly called OSA, still ignore it and leave it undiagnosed, thinking that it is not dangerous. Unfortunately that is a huge mistake and a severe danger to their health.

Snoring is a normal sleeping habit for almost 50% of people today. However, some noisy sleepers may actually stop breathing for 30 seconds or even longer many times during the night. Even if you snore very heavily that does not automatically mean that you have OSA – but if you do have OSA you will definitely be a snorer.

If you stop breathing while you’re sleeping, you probably have obstructive sleep apnoea, which affects millions of adults. This kind of sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissue of the throat relaxes during sleep and blocks the airway, resulting in snoring. Patients with sleep apnea may stop breathing for a period of time that lasts anywhere from ten seconds to two minutes and these interruptions in breathing occur multiple times throughout the night.

These interruptions are called apneic events and can trigger a loud snorting or choking that wakes you up to take a breath. This occurs due to your heart rate slowing because of the lack of oxygen intake. This lower level of oxygen is picked up by the brain, which then sends a signal to speed your heart rate up and rouse you from sleep in order to take another breath, often causing you to snort, choke, or gasp. This cycle repeating throughout the night can lead to sleep deprivation and exhaustion the following day as your sleep cycle is consistently interrupted.

Sleep apnea has been linked by clinical research to numerous medical conditions such as stroke, diabetes, depression, ADHD, headaches, high blood pressure, and even heart failure.

OSA can be caused by many things and should be taken very seriously. While sleep apnea may happen to anyone, it is more common in men over the age of 40 who are overweight. This condition is also very common in overweight women as well as individuals with a nasal obstruction or with gastrointestinal disorders.

It should be looked into by a health professional even though self-treatment can be undertaken for it in a less severe form. If your sleep apnea is severe and is causing consistent disruptions, you may need to seek one or more of a variety of treatment options. The main options are:

CPAP: A CPAP, or continuous positive airflow pressure machine, is one of the most common treatments that is used for obstructive sleep apnoea, although many patients who try it subsequently reject it. They find it difficult and uncomfortable to use for a variety of reasons.

A mask is placed over your nose and mouth that is hooked up to a machine that pumps a constant stream of air into the airway, keeping it open and preventing your breathing passages from becoming obstructed while you sleep.  The NHS now recommend that rather than reject it and have no prevention treatment, that chronic sufferers use an oral appliance rather than have no treatment.

Oral devices: These may be small and acrylic and worn inside of the mouth like a sports mouth guard and cause the repositioning of the lower jaw. Oral appliances are only effective for mild to moderate sleep apnea and commonly work by bringing your lower jaw or tongue forward during sleep to open the airway during sleep. Various types are available and they can even be made to specially fit your dental profile,

Sleep apnea may be more than just a common annoyance, as it has been linked to more serious conditions such as diabetes, stroke, and depression. It can also impact your ability to perform daily tasks, as it can reduce sleep quality resulting in exhaustion. If you are suffering from apneic events, talk to your doctor in order to discuss lifestyle changes and treatment options that may help prevent your condition from worsening.

 

John Redfern

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