It is 2 a.m. and your spouse’s snoring has awakened you once again, but it’s a good thing you’re awake. Your husband’s loud snoring, followed by a gasp, and then a choking sound, is most likely sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when your throat muscles relax while you sleep and tissue blocks your airway. Breathing may be paused from 10 to 30 seconds, or longer. As oxygen to your brain is cut off, your body is aroused from sleep. Most cases pass without commotion; however, this condition can lead to a heart attack or death.
Sufferers are unaware of their breathing interruptions yet 24 percent of men and 9 percent of women suffer from a sleep apnea disorder, according to the American Academy for Sleep Medicine (AASM).
Factors that may put you at a higher risk of exhibiting symptoms include:
Lifestyle Those who are overweight and obese, lack exercise or smoke are more likely to experience sleep apnea.
Age The risks increase with age. It tends to affliict middle-to-older aged adults and post-menopausal women. Few children suffer from sleep apnea.
Heredity If you have a family history of sleep apnea, you are at higher risk.
Abnormalities in the neck or nasal construction (nasal congestion) can contribute to the blocking of the airway.
Endocrine diseases, which are caused by hormonal imbalances, can interfere with respiration and secretion.
Sufferers of sleep apnea are unaware of their breathing difficulties during sleep. To get an accurate diagnosis, you will need to be hooked up for a night to a monitoring machine called a polysomnogram. This is a painless but obtrusive treatment that requires wiring you up with sensors to monitor your brain activity.
The type of therapy pursued depends on the severity of your condition.
Behavioral therapy is an obvious remedy for those who are overweight or smoke. In mild cases, more studies are showing a link between diet, exercise, and obesity and an increase in sleep apnea. A modification of your sleeping position may lessen the severity and incidence of the problem. Sleeping on your side or with your head raised on a pillow may reduce the number of sleep apnea events.
Oral devices can help keep your air passage open. The most popular apparatus is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask. The air passage is kept open through an air pressurized mask. Oral appliances can also be used to reposition the lower jaw, uvula, tongue or soft palate.
Surgery has typically been a last option for severe OSA. Invasive surgery may address a deformity or remove tissue at the back of the throat that blocks the airway. The latter procedure, known as uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP), requires removing tonsils and adenoids, if present. More recently, noninvasive laser surgery has been used to treat snoring and OSA by removing the uvula and palatal tissue or shrinking the floppy palate. Surgical options should be chosen based on well-informed advice and research. The University of Maryland Medical Center provides a good overview of related benefits, risks and complications of Obstructive Sleep Apnea Surgery.
The efficacy of nasal sprays and dilators is not proven.
A comprehensive list of treatment options is provided by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s report on Obstructive Sleep Apnea. The first step to undisturbed sleep is maintaining a healthy lifestyle.