What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Breathing in people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is repeatedly interrupted during sleep. This interruption may be complete (called an apnea) or a partial blockage (called a hypopnea). OSA is a physical airway obstruction caused by collapse in the nose, behind the palate, tongue, or other soft tissue in the throat.
Sleep apnea is a condition that causes a person to stop breathing many times during sleep. Non-breathing periods can occur up to 100 times an hour. There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive and central. With obstructive sleep apnea, the more common type, muscles in the throat relax and soft tissue blocks the airway. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain does not communicate the proper signals to muscles that control breathing. Sometimes a person will have complex sleep apnea, which is a mixture of both obstructive and central sleep apnea. OSA is associated with snoring, but not everyone who snores has OSA.
How is OSA Different from Snoring?
About 50 percent of people have experienced regular snoring at some point during their lives. Snoring is associated with heavy breathing and results from vibrations of structures around the roof of the mouth (palate) or tongue. With snoring, a person experiences sleep disturbances and annoyance of their bed partner. With OSA, there is harm to one’s health because your breathing actually blocks during repeated events every night. Snoring is better categorized as a social problem, while OSA is a medical problem. If you have loud snoring, you should be checked for OSA. You can have a sleep study done to detect if you have times when you stop breathing at night. Treatments are available for both OSA and snoring.
Symptoms and Problems of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
In addition to sleeping poorly, people with OSA may experience symptoms such as frequent napping, low energy, mood swings, decreased libido, headaches, constant tiredness, and a sore throat. OSA is also associated with high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and unexpected death. OSA can result in chronic sleep deprivation and its dangers, such as impaired driving. When OSA is not treated, you may experience complications such as lung and heart disease and weight gain.
Some symptoms of sleep apnea are common, which may cause sufferers to ignore them. These signs and symptoms often increase gradually and go unchecked for years.
For example, one person snores, which annoys the person sleeping nearby, but it is not considered a major problem since many people snore. However, when other symptoms occur, it’s not as easy to dismiss them. Other symptoms can include the following:
- Waking up by gasping or choking
- Insomnia, or tossing and turning frequently throughout the night
- Waking up at night to urinate
- Waking up with a headache, dry mouth or sore throat
- Being sleepy and tired during the day
- Inability to remember things or concentrate
- Depression, anxiety and other mood changes
Take a test to determine if you are too sleepy during the day. This questionnaire can help screen for people with sleep problems. A score of 11 or more can suggest that you have a problem sleeping at night.
Diagnosing a sleep disorder begins with recognizing the symptoms and undergoing a sleep study test.