Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Can OSA be dangerous?

Lack of sleep can cause you to fall asleep while driving and result in car accidents. OSA can, with time, cause high blood pressure (hypertension), heart disease, stroke, diabetes mellitus or early death.

How do I know if I have OSA?

If you have symptoms of OSA, you need to talk with your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider can help you decide if you need a sleep study and whether you should be evaluated further at a sleep center.

OSA is diagnosed by a sleep study (Polysomnogram). A sleep study is often done at a sleep center where you will be scheduled to sleep overnight. Alternatively, an at home sleep apnea test may also be used to diagnose OSA. During a sleep study, your breathing, heart rate and oxygen levels will be monitored.

How is sleep apnea treated?

Sleep apnea can be effectively treated, and there are a number of ways to do so. The choice of treatment will depend on the reason for and severity of the sleep apnea. If your OSA is from being overweight, weight loss may cause that apnea to go away completely.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a device, commonly ordered to treat OSA. CPAP is a machine that works like a compressor to blow air into a mask that is worn snugly over the nose and/or mouth or in the nostrils (nasal pillows) during sleep. The flow of air acts like a splint to keep the upper airway from collapsing. This helps prevent obstruction and the apnea from occurring. The air pressure is adjusted to a setting that works best to control the apnea. Often a person will also notice much less snoring when wearing a CPAP.

As alcohol can suppress breathing it should be avoided. Sleep apnea is often worse when a person sleeps on his or her back. If you sleep on your back, you can use a pillow or some other strategy to force yourself to sleep on your side.

There are other devices that can work for some people. For some, surgery can be done to treat OSA. The type of device or surgery will depend on what has caused the apnea. Some oral appliances or devices that are worn in the mouth during sleep may keep your airway open. Most oral devices work by either bringing the jaw forward or keeping the tongue from blocking the throat. Oral appliances are most likely used to help a person who has mild sleep apnea and who is not overweight. The devices are usually custom made and fitted under the supervision of a specialized dentist or oral surgeon who has worked with these problems.

When the tonsils or the adenoids are causing the throat to be blocked, surgery can be done to take out the tonsils (tonsillectomy) and/or adenoids (adenoidectomy). Surgery can also be helpful for people with jaw problems. Other surgeries for OSA either clear out the tissue from the back of the throat, repositioning the tongue forward, or implant a nerve stimulator to cause the tongue to move forward during sleep. These surgeries are not, however as effective as CPAP to control OSA and are usually reserved for people who have failed CPAP therapy.

What are the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea?

You may not be aware that you have OSA, but the symptoms may be more obvious to a spouse, other family members or a close friend.

Common symptoms you may have during sleep include:

  • Snoring that is usually loud and bothers other people trying to sleep nearby you. Snoring can come and go through the night.

  • Gasping or choking sounds.

  • Breathing pause observed by someone watching you sleep.

  • Sudden or jerky movements.

  • Restless tossing and turning.

  • Frequent awakenings from sleep.

Common symptoms that you may have while awake:

  • Waking up feeling like you have not had enough sleep, even after sleeping many hours.

  • Morning headaches.

  • Dry or sore throat in the morning from breathing through your mouth during sleep.

  • Fatigue or tiredness through the day.

  • Personality changes, such as mood swings and difficulty getting along with others.

  • Problems with poor memory or inability to concentrate.