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Things you should know about…. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

  • With sleep apnea, your breathing during sleep will reduce or may even stop
  • You are likely to only have breathing difficulties when asleep
  • You may have no idea this happens
  • It can be associated with other medical problems
  • It can be successfully treated

What is OSA?
Patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have repeated episodes of partial or complete obstruction of the throat (also known as "pharynx" or "upper airway") during sleep. If partial or complete obstructions occur breathing is reduced or stops for a short time. These episodes of obstruction may happen many times – even hundreds of times - overnight. Some people know that their breathing is not normal at night, but may be unaware that this is a medical problem that is causing them harm. Fortunately, treatment is available.

What are the symptoms of OSA?
The most commonly associated symptom of sleep apnea is snoring. But not everyone who snores has sleep apnea - if snoring is combined with choking or gasping sounds, it is likely to be Sleep Apnea. Other common symptoms of OSA where only one is prevalent or a combination can include:

  • Pauses in breathing
  • Daytime Fatigue
  • Morning headaches
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Insomnia due to difficulty staying asleep
  • Waking up with dry mouth or a sore throat
  • Frequent need to urinate during the night
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Memory or learning problems
  • Moodiness, irritability or depression

What are the effects of OSA?
Sleep Apnea can make you wake up in the morning feeling tired or unrefreshed even though you have had a full night of sleep. During the day, you may feel fatigued, have difficulty concentrating or you may even unintentionally fall asleep. This is because your body is waking up numerous times throughout the night, even though you might not be conscious of each awakening.

The lack of oxygen your body receives can have negative long-term consequences for your health, this may include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Pre-diabetes and diabetes
  • Depression

Sleepiness is a medical condition and can be very dangerous for people with Sleep Apnea who have a markedly increased incidence of car accidents, work accidents, and sick days.

How is sleep apnea treated?
For some people; losing weight, decreasing the amount of alcohol consumed in the evening or adjusting the sleeping position may be all that is needed. However, the most commonly used form of treatment is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP).

CPAP uses a small, quiet air pump that takes air from the room and delivers it under gentle pressure to a mask that covers your nose, or mouth and nose. This acts to hold your throat open during the night. You only use CPAP at night in bed and it is very good at controlling the symptoms and the long-term effects of sleep apnea. It stops the snoring and the machine noise is very much quieter than the snoring was. For some patients however, it takes a while to get used to CPAP.

A few other remedies have been marketed, some of which have value for selected patients while many others have been shown to be of no benefit. Your doctor will be able to advise you further.

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