The Symptoms and Health Risks of Sleep Apnea

Many people find themselves feeling fatigued throughout the day, even though they believe they have had a good night’s sleep. They may write it off as a consequence of busy, modern lives. However, ongoing daily fatigue could be due to a disorder called sleep apnea.

Around 18 million Americans have this disorder, with many remaining undiagnosed. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) which occurs when the muscles in the throat relax as you sleep, narrowing the airways and making breathing difficult.

The brain reacts to the drop in blood oxygen levels by prompting you to briefly awake in order for you to breathe and reopen the airways. Sometimes you may awake gasping for air -- and these episodes can happen numerous times every night, often without you remembering in the morning.

Symptoms of OSA

Your partner may be the one who spots your breathing difficulties as you sleep. They will certainly note one of the other major symptoms of OSA, regular and loud snoring. Not everyone who snores will suffer with this sleep disorder, but those who are diagnosed with OSA will almost always snore loudly. There are other signs which point to OSA, including:

  • Daytime fatigue
  • Poor concentration and motivation levels
  • Morning headaches
  • Dry mouth or sore throat from sleeping with the mouth open
  • Irritability

Certain people will be more at risk of OSA. Men are at least twice more likely than women to have this sleep disorder, while excessive weight has also been strongly linked to the condition. As we age the risk also rises, while those who smoke or drink alcohol also see their risk to the disorder increase.

In-Home Testing

Diagnosis of OSA is vital as the symptoms can be reduced, removing the feeling of daily fatigue and helping restore your quality of life. Fatigue and irritability is difficult enough to cope with on a daily basis and can be harmful to personal and professional relationships. Yet fatigue also increases the risk of accidents, including when driving.

OSA left untreated can also increase the risk of serious health issues, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Liver damage
  • Depression

If you think you are experiencing symptoms which could indicate OSA the first step toward diagnosis is taking an in-home test for the disorder. Taken from the comfort of your own home, these portable tests are simple to complete.

When the in-home test arrives it includes a clip which you place over your finger as you sleep. This clip is connected to a small monitor which records blood oxygen levels and monitors your heart rate.

Once the test is complete you just need to return the kit, which is then analysed by sleep experts who will be able to see the amount of valid sleep time you manage and the level of interruptions to your sleep you experience. Once your degree of OSA is diagnosed a relevant treatment plan can be recommended.

Changes You Can Make

You may be diagnosed with a mild, moderate or severe degree of this sleep disorder. One of the first recommendations from your doctor to help reduce the symptoms of your OSA might be to make some lifestyle changes.

With obesity being linked to OSA, weight loss through a balanced, nutritional diet and exercise may be advised. Losing weight can reduce excess tissue at the back of the throat, helping to keep the airways clear.

Adjustments to your sleeping environment can also help encourage sleep, including ensuring the bedroom is dark, removing screens from the bedroom and going to bed only when tired.

Those who smoke may be asked to quit, while those who like a drink may be asked to reduce their alcohol consumption.

Your doctor may also advise against sleeping on your back as gravity can pull the tissues in the throat down, causing a blockage in the airways. This is called “positional therapy” and can also involve wearing a device on your back or waist when sleeping to make sure you sleep on your side.

Oral devices may also be recommended which are worn when sleeping to help keep the airways clear. These look like a mouthguard and work by gently pushing the lower jaw down while you sleep and opening the airways up to make breathing easier again.

The Primary Treatment

The leading treatment for OSA is called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy. This uses a device to supply a steady, controlled stream of air through a mask worn while sleeping. To reduce the symptoms of OSA and return to a good night of proper restorative sleep, the therapy needs to be used every night.

While this can take some adjusting to, modern devices are small and portable, making them easy to transport when staying away from home at night. By persisting with CPAP therapy you reduce the symptoms of OSA, decreasing your risk of the health problems associated with sleep apnea.

Benefits of OSA Treatment

Constant fatigue as a result of OSA can affect your mood and productivity every day. Partners of those with OSA will also be affected from the heavy snoring and increased irritability, putting a strain on the relationship.

People who persist with their CPAP therapy report a reduction in fatigue levels, increased energy and improved levels of concentration and motivation. A big one for partners is the reduction in the heavy snoring. Therefore, by following recommended OSA treatment both the sufferer and their partner can benefit.

Of course, the biggest benefit of successful treatment and reduced OSA symptoms is the reduced risk of the serious health issues which can result from OSA.

It’s Time to Take the First Steps

Diagnosis of the disorder is key, with an in-home sleep test an important first step. Only when you have taken a test and received a professional diagnosis can your doctor work with you to find a treatment course which works for your degree of OSA. Treatment may require some adjustment at first, but it should soon come to feel a part of your every day routine.

Our sleep experts at Sleep Quest will counsel you every step of the way to help you make lifestyle changes that will help relieve your symptoms. They will also counsel you about CPAP therapy -- helping you identify the mask that fits best, and guiding you through any issues you have getting used to the equipment.

With our sleep experts’ health, we’ve had great success in changing patients’ lives. 91.1% of patients we counsel are fully acclimated to the CPAP equipment within the first two to three weeks -- and on the path to restorative sleep and a more productive, happier life.

That’s our wish for you, so please take time to learn if you have sleep apnea, Then let us help you adapt to treatment -- so you can get on with your life.