A Guide to Identifying Obstructive Sleep Apnea Signs: Practical Advice

Although obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a potentially serious condition, up to 20 percent of the global population suffers from its symptoms without getting a clear diagnosis. Some may believe their symptoms are not a problem, not severe enough to warrant attention. 

However, it is important to remember that the long-term effects of sleep apnea can be associated with serious health risks. This is why knowing the most common obstructive sleep apnea signs is crucial – as OSA is very treatable. 

The checklist outlined here has been designed to provide you with an additional level of clarity and insight.

Overnight Symptoms

Diagnosing sleep apnea can be challenging on occasion, as some of the most predominant symptoms occur during the overnight hours. There are nonetheless some signs that a problem exists. These often include:

  • Loud, frequent snoring.
  • Broken sleep punctuated by bouts of tossing and turning.
  • Waking up multiple times to urinate.
  • Broken sleep due to coughing or gasping for breath.
  • Breathing primarily through the mouth.

We should nonetheless point out that a single symptom might not necessarily indicate obstructive sleep apnea. A proper diagnosis normally involves determining if a combination of these scenarios is experienced on a regular basis. 

Daytime Symptoms

Yet another insidious aspect of sleep apnea is the fact that some symptoms will take place during the day. The problem here is that sufferers may mistake these for other issues such as simple fatigue or a lack of motivation. Let's now list a handful of additional warning signs:

  • Excessive tiredness throughout the day.
  • Feelings of mental fatigue or a general "fogginess".
  • Waking up with a sore throat or an extremely dry mouth.
  • Unexplained headaches in the morning.
  • Problems with memory that cannot be adequately explained.
  • Decreased libido (sex drive).

If the symptoms outlined above sound familiar or if they have recently increased in severity, it is always important to consult with a trained medical professional. 

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

The roots of sleep apnea involve the respiratory tract. There can be times when the airways begin to narrow at night, even collapsing entirely while you lay down. This makes it difficult for the body to obtain the oxygen that it requires; leading to a condition known as hypoxaemia. The severity of these episodes is classified as follows:

  • A 30 percent reduction in airflow for more than ten seconds: hypopnea
  • A 90 percent reduction for ten seconds or longer: apnea

Although these situations can occur in healthy people, the key takeaway point involves the frequency. If more than five events take place each hour, an individual may be diagnosed with sleep apnea. 

What Are The Risk Factors?

Why do some people suffer from OSA while others enjoy a sound night of sleep without any interruptions? Many feel that genetics play a role. However, there are other variables that can increase the chances of being diagnosed with OSA. These include:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking and drinking alcohol to excess
  • Tonsils that have become enlarged (normally resolved by removing these organs)
  • Age (older individuals are at a higher risk)
  • Gender (males seem to be at a slightly higher risk
  • Sleeping position

We can now see why enacting specific lifestyle changes can have an impact upon the severity of obstructive sleep apnea. When used in tandem with modern treatment options, most patients will enjoy a positive long-term prognosis. 

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

A doctor or sleep specialist will employ a number of methods (based at least in part on the reported symptoms). 

For instance, a pulse oximetry test can be used to measure oxygen levels in the bloodstream while asleep. An electrocardiogram (ECG) could likewise be valuable when evaluating how your heart is functioning during the overnight hours. 

These are two facets of a diagnostic method known as a polysomnography (PSG) examination. The main point is that specialists will be able to quickly determine whether sleep apnea is the diagnosis.

Many doctors start with an at-home diagnostic test, allowing you to sleep in your own bed wearing simple monitors.

What Treatments are Available?

Embracing a proactive approach to specific lifestyle changes is always recommended, as these will have a profound effect upon the associated symptoms. 

Advice can often include (but not be limited to) losing weight, quitting cigarettes, adopting an active lifestyle, and modifying your sleeping position. 

It can nonetheless be argued that a device known as a positive airway pressure (PAP) machine tends to provide the most beneficial results. 

The purpose of a PAP device is to expand your airways while asleep. This reduces the chances that they will collapse, and it helps to provide your body with the vital oxygen that it requires to function normally. 

Along with the PAP device, you must also wear a mask (either face mask or nasal mask) connected with a tube to the PAP. 

There are many PAP variants to consider, and they can often be adjusted to accommodate personal preferences (such as the presence of a built-in humidifier or a mask that only covers the nose).

Awareness is the First Step

Similar to any illness, becoming aware of specific symptoms is important if you hope to encounter targeted treatment options. It is important to speak with your primary care physician if you are experiencing any sleep problems. He or she can quickly determine the most appropriate solution.