Obstructive Sleep Apnea Overview, Symptoms, Treatments

Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Overview

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that can potentially be quite serious. Causing breathing to intermittently stop and start while sleeping, there are actually various kinds of sleep apnea, with obstructive sleep apnea being the most common. With obstructive sleep apnea a person’s throat muscles actually relax intermittently which blocks the airways while the person is sleeping. Snoring is common and obvious sign of obstructive sleep apnea.

Luckily, there are treatments for obstructive sleep apnea. One typical treatment is the use of a device that fits a bit like a mask which is able to exert positive pressure to keep the airway open while a person sleeps. An alternative option is the use of a mouthpiece that is able to position the lower jaw forward while a person sleeps. Surgery can also be a treatment option in some cases.

Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

There are some common signs and symptoms that may indicate obstructive sleep apnea including:

  • Excessive and/or loud snoring
  • Extreme daytime drowsiness
  • Noticeable episodes of interrupted breathing while sleeping (from an outside observer)
  • Abrupt and/or frequent awakenings during the night with gasping or choking sensations
  • Waking up with a sore throat or a dry mouth
  • Waking up in the morning with headaches
  • Difficulty with day-time concentration
  • Mood changes such as irritability or depression
  • Hypertension (High blood pressure)
  • Sweating during sleep
  • A decrease in libido

It is important a health care professional be consulted as soon as possible if you experience (and/or if a partner or friend observes) any snoring that is loud enough to wake yourself or others up, if you wake up gasping or choking, if you experience the sensation of (or a friend or partner notices) intermittent pausing in breathing at night while you sleep, and/or if you are experiencing extreme daytime sleepiness.

Often people don’t think of snoring as a sign or symptom of a potentially serious condition, but it’s important to consult your doctor if you experience (and/or a friend or partner notices) loud snoring. In the case of obstructive sleep apnea the loudest snoring usually occurs when a person sleeps on their back - and the snoring usually then quiets when the person turns to sleep on their side.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea - Risk Factors

While obstructive sleep apnea can develop for almost anyone, there are factors that can increase the risk, including:

  • Obesity or excess weight: Not everyone who has obstructive sleep apnea is overweight, but it is extremely common for people with obstructive sleep apnea to be overweight.
  • Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
  • Airways that are narrow: People with naturally narrow airways can develop obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Chronic Nasal Congestion: It is twice as common for people with chronic nasal congestions to develop obstructive sleep apnea. This can be related to narrowed airways.
  • Smoking
  • Family History of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
  • Diabetes
  • Gender: It is twice as common for men (than premenopausal women) to develop obstructive sleep apnea. After women have gone through menopause it is more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Asthma

Because obstructive sleep apnea is a serious health issue it is important to consult with your health care professional if you are having any of the associate signs, symptoms, or risk factors.

Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea