If you are one of the 18 million Americans with sleep apnea, you may be struggling to get the sleep you need each night and you may not even know why. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can be a life threatening condition that often goes undiagnosed and untreated. Those who struggle with the condition experience a variety of symptoms ranging from excessive daytime sleepiness to long term health problems like hypertension. In order to mitigate the short and long term effects of OSA, it is important for those with the condition to be diagnosed and treated.
What is OSA?
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when a person’s sleep is frequently interrupted by apneas, short pauses in breathing that can last for 10 seconds or more. Apneas occur when the airway is blocked during sleep by the collapse of muscles in the throat. When the airway is blocked, oxygen levels decrease and sleep is interrupted.
What are the Symptoms of OSA?
Common symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Symptoms of sleep deprivation like moodiness and irritability
- Falling asleep at inappropriate times like while driving or at work
What Causes OSA?
While anyone at any age can suffer from sleep apnea, there are some factors that increase the risk. People who are overweight, have a smaller than average upper airway or large overbite, and those with necks larger than 16-17 inches have an increased chance of suffering from sleep apnea. People over 40, those who smoke or drink alcohol and those belonging to specific ethic groups like African Americans and Hispanics also have a greater risk of developing the condition.
What are the Dangers of OSA?
In addition to the short term consequences related to sleep deprivation like excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep apnea can also lead to long term health conditions like hypertension, stroke, depression, and cardiovascular problems like heart attack and congestive heart failure. Those with the condition are also at increased risk for automobile accidents caused by drowsy driving.
How is OSA Treated?
The first step in treating OSA is getting an accurate diagnosis. If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, you should call and make an appointment with a licensed sleep doctor to discuss your concerns. Your doctor may refer you to a have a sleep study at Valley Sleep Center. This is the best way to diagnose sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. Once a diagnosis is made, the sleep doctor will recommend a treatment program that will likely include the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. This is the most effective treatment for sleep apnea and can greatly improve symptoms in both the short and the long term.
Other treatments for sleep apnea that may be used in conjunction with the CPAP or instead of it include dental appliances, surgery, and lifestyle changes like losing weight and quitting smoking. With proper treatment, people with sleep apnea can safeguard their health and alleviate the symptoms of this debilitating sleep disorder.