Do you wake up feeling tired? Have a strong urge to sleep during the day? Become drowsy while driving? Fall asleep while watching TV or a movie? Snore? Does your snoring keep your partner awake? Do you suddenly wake up during the night gasping for air or with a dry mouth?
If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you might have “obstructive sleep apnea” or OSA. This is a condition in which your airway becomes obstructed during sleep causing you to stop breathing normally. Because this happens while you sleep, you probably don’t know that you have OSA at all.
What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)?
OSA occurs when your muscles relax and allow the soft palate and tongue to close off your airway. This causes you to stop breathing several times during the night for up to 10 seconds or longer and produces a drop in the supply of oxygen to your brain. This cycle can be repeated 30 times or more each hour, all night. No wonder you wake up tired!
OSA is serious and, if untreated, can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, lack of sexual desire, heart disease, heart attack, dementia, or even stroke. OSA deprivers you of deep, restorative sleep (commonly referred to as REM or “rapid eye movement” sleep) so necessary for good health.
Symptoms of OSA
Symptoms of OSA range from chronic fatigue or sleepiness during the day to snoring and consciously disrupted sleep at night. Common symptoms include
· Feeling tired or exhausted upon awaking in the morning
· Frequent drowsiness when engaged in normal activity during the day (driving while drowsy is a major cause of traffic accidents)
· Depression or changes in mood during the day
· Loud and frequent snoring that sometimes awakens your partner
· Waking up while gasping for breath or choking
· Dry mouth or morning headache
OSA is also associated with high blood pressure, lower sex drive, and weight gain.
Men suffer from OSA at 2 to 3 times the rate for women. Persons who are 30 or more pounds overweight or who have thick necks (17 inches or more in circumference) are susceptible to OSA because being overweight enlarges the soft tissue in the back of the throat.
OSA can afflict persons of any age, but it usually peaks between ages 40 and 60. Smokers experience sleep apnea at 3 times the rate for non-smokers.
A large majority of persons are unaware of having OSA and do not seek treatment for it. The cost to society of not treating OSA is significant since it results in traffic accidents, stroke, and heart attacks. That’s why truck drivers and others who need a commercial driver’s license are required to be screened and treated for OSA.
What Should You Do?
If you have trouble sleeping or have any of the above symptoms, you should be checked by your health care provider. At Kathy’s Urgent Care, we can help determine an appropriate course of action to cope with your individual situation.
Above all, do not self-medicate with alcohol or sleeping pills. Alcohol relaxes the muscles that control the soft tissue around your throat, making your problem worse. And most sleeping pills contain muscle relaxants that have the same effect. Using either will likely make your problem worse.
Depending on how severe your problem appears, we can recommend at-home testing kits or refer you to a sleep testing facility as needed. The home kits cost about $250, and some vendors accept insurance payment. Sleep testing facilities are more expensive and are usually covered, at least partially, by health insurance plans. Either route can give us the information needed to follow up.
While you might need assistive measures—CPAP or EPAP devices, dental appliances, etc.—quite often you can achieve good results simply by losing weight. Losing weight often controls snoring and can reduce or eliminate sleep apnea over time. Doing so, however, takes a while and can be difficult to achieve. We have learned that medically supervised weight control programs and changes in lifestyle are most effective in achieving permanent improvement. In most cases, surgery should be considered a last resort.
OSA can lead to very serious health issues and even cause death. Get checked by your health care provider and decide on a weight loss program or other measures to relieve your symptoms. Don’t put this off!
Remember that at Kathy’s Urgent Care, we can help with this and related health problems.
If you’ve had experience with OSA and various treatment options or if you have questions or opinions about OSA, please leave a comment below.