It is a known fact that many people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are often unaware of the problem for many years. This is particularly true of those who sleep alone – as it is often the bed partner who first becomes aware of the potential problem.
Persistent snoring is one of the most common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. But this does not mean that all people who snore regularly suffer from this potentially serious sleep disorder.
There are many physical and mental signs that may indicate a person is suffering from OSA.
Cause and Effect
The most common type of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), is caused by a relaxation of the throat muscles during sleep. These muscles control the tonsils, tongue, soft palate, the walls of the throat, and the uvula, which is the tissue suspended below the soft palate.
When the body is alert and active, these moving parts function smoothly together to control the breathing.
As the throat muscles relax during sleep, however, the air passage narrows, or even temporarily closes, leaving the body struggling for oxygen. This, in turn, causes a reaction in the brain and it alerts the body that there is a problem.
The lack of oxygen triggers the sleeper to briefly awaken so a normal flow of air can be restored. These brief awakenings (“apneas”) can happen dozens of times in one night – yet you are often not even aware of them. These pauses in breathing are one of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea at night.
Obstructive sleep apnea sufferers often feel drowsy and lack concentration during the day. Drowsy driving is very common – and very dangerous.
But the damage untreated OSA can cause is another issue.
The list of medical problems associated with obstructive sleep apnea is lengthy but some of the more serious conditions include:
- Respiratory problems
- Liver disease
- Low blood oxygen
- High blood sugar
- High blood pressure
- Poor cholesterol levels
- Heart conditions
- Erectile dysfunction
It is not only the body that untreated OSA can adversely affect, but also the mind. Many people have shown signs of mental confusion, memory loss, and depression.
Night and Day
Because the condition is sleep-related, many people assume that symptoms of sleep apnea at night would be the only tell-tale indicators of obstructive sleep apnea.
While it is true that many symptoms do present during the hours of sleep there are also a number of symptoms of sleep apnea while awake that one should be aware of.
- Persistent snoring
- Waking because of gasping, choking or struggling for breath
- Restless and disturbed sleep
- Possible insomnia
Because of disturbed sleep and a tendency to breathe through the mouth, it is also quite common for OSA patients to awake with:
- Dry mouth
- Morning headaches
- Morning dizziness
- Daytime tiredness
- Lack of energy
- Poor concentration
There is no set list of causes of sleep apnea and the condition can affect anyone at any age although it is rare in children and adolescents. The frequency and severity of symptoms can vary greatly from person to person but any, some, or all of the warning signs should never be simply ignored.
A doctor can run tests, ask questions, offer advice, and refer a patient to a sleep specialist when necessary.
Treatments for OSA have improved greatly in recent years and the condition can now be treated effectively.
Because the causes of sleep apnea are often unknown, it may be impossible to avoid the condition. All that can be done is to be aware of the warning signs and seek treatment as soon as possible.
Everyone will experience days of feeling lethargic and occasional drops in levels of concentration and attentiveness.
However, if this should become a daily occurrence then it may possibly be a sign of sleep apnea. This is not always the case as it may be something so simple that a change in lifestyle or diet may resolve the issue.
Whatever the cause of the problem, it is prudent to bring the matter to the attention of a doctor who can assess the cause and recommend the proper course of action.
Never assume that the problem will simply go away of its own accord. Any delay in seeking professional help will likely only see the problem worsen.
Obstructive sleep apnea can be treated and managed in a number of ways. But refusing to acknowledge the problem can have serious repercussions for bodily and mental health.
Be aware of any changes in quality of sleep – as well as physical and mental issues during the day. The symptoms of sleep apnea while awake are not always easy to spot. But unusual and undesired changes in daily functioning should be noted as they can be an early warning of something amiss with the body.
And that something may just be the onset of obstructive sleep apnea!