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Snoring & Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a very common disorder affecting more than 18 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. While (OSA) can affect both sexes and all ages, it's more common in men than in women.

Women are more likely to develop it during pregnancy and after menopause. It is also most common in those over 40 and more than half of those with the condition are overweight. Studies have found that people who have relatives with sleep apnea are more likely to develop it.

Causes

The muscles in the throat relax during sleep and the airway is narrowed or blocked, causing repeated pauses in breathing or shallow breathing. Too little air flows into the lungs, causing loud snoring and a drop in blood oxygen level. If the oxygen drops to a dangerous level, it causes the brain to wake the sufferer to resume breathing. This helps to open the windpipe and normal breathing resumes, often with a loud snort or choking sound.

This frequent drop in oxygen level and poor sleep quality causes the release of stress hormones, which raise the heart rate and increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, irregular heartbeats and heart failure. Untreated OSA can also increase the risk of obesity and diabetes.

Signs and Symptoms of OSA

Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed. Many people who have it are unaware of it because it occurs while they are asleep. A family member may be the first to notice the signs.

In adults the most common signs and symptoms are:

  • Loud and ongoing snoring that may be interrupted by pauses, then choking or gasping.
  • Sleepiness and falling asleep at inappropriate times during the day, a result of the poor quality of sleep.
  • Memory, concentration or learning problems, irritability, anxiety, moodiness or depression.
  • Morning headaches or nausea, frequent urination at night and a dry throat on waking up.

Risks

Untreated OSA can be potentially very serious and even life threatening. OSA can lead to many medical problems, including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity and diabetes. OSA increases the risk of heart failure and makes arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats more likely.

OSA is a chronic condition that requires long-term treatment. Adequate treatment can reduce or eliminate these risks and in many cases, you can feel the benefits, such as reduced sleepiness, soon after treatment begins.

What to Do

If you suspect that you or a loved one suffers from OSA, see your physician or one of our sleep specialists. OSA is diagnosed based on medical and family histories, a physical examination and a polysomnogram (PSG), the most common sleep study used to diagnose sleep apnea.

If your physician believes you have sleep apnea, he or she may order a “split-night” sleep study. During the first part of the night, your sleep is monitored without a CPAP machine to confirm whether you have sleep apnea and its severity. If the PSG concludes that you do have sleep apnea, you may be equipped with the CPAP machine during the latter part of the split-night study and the flow of air will be adjusted to find the best setting for you. A CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine delivers heated, humidified, mildly pressurized air through tubing to either a nasal or a full-face mask to keep the airway open during sleep. It is the most common and a highly effective way of treating OSA.

Lifestyle changes and/or mouthpieces may suffice to relieve mild sleep apnea. Sufferers with moderate to severe sleep apnea may require breathing devices or surgery to widen breathing passages.