What You Need To Know About OSA

What is OSA?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a common sleep-related breathing disorder. The word apnea means “no breathing,” and sleep apnea refers to pauses in breathing that occur during sleep. When breathing is blocked for more than 10 seconds, an “apnea” event has occurred. On average, these pauses last for 10 to 30 seconds, until the brain reacts, briefly waking the person up, which resolves the problem.

What happens during pauses in breathing?

With each episode of apnea, oxygen levels in the blood drop, the heart speeds up and sleep is interrupted in order to resume breathing. This cycle of repeated waking and cardiac stress happens repeatedly throughout the night. Even though the sleeper often has no recollection of these awakenings, they usually report restlessness and the disturbances have a serious impact on sleep quality and daytime functioning.

What does the “obstructed” part of OSA mean?

This refers to obstruction of the airway due to a relaxing and subsequent collapse of tissues in the mouth and throat including the tongue, tonsils, soft palate, and uvula. Being overweight is often a major contributing factor to OSA, because of increased fatty deposits in the throat.

How does OSA affect a person?

A regular schedule of adequate, good-quality sleep is needed to be rested and refreshed in the morning. Repeated disturbances in sleep time and reduced blood oxygen levels interfere with a person’s normal sleep pattern. This can result in excessive daytime sleepiness, memory loss and poor concentration, mood changes and reduced quality of life.

Are there health risks associated with sleep apnea, and are they serious?

They certainly can be. Sleepiness, is the primary symptom of sleep apnea.  Others  include:

  • Increased risk  for high blood pressure
  • Increased risk  for heart disease and stroke
  • Increased risk of motor vehicle accidents
  • Increased risk of work-related injuries
  • Decreased quality of life (for both the patient and bed partner)

Sleep apnea is also associated with serious health conditions including ischemic heart disease, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, cerebrovascular disease, depression, and type 2 diabetes. Untreated OSA has been linked to a shortened life span.

What are the symptoms of OSA?

OSA can include all or some of the following:

  • Snoring
  • Dry mouth or sore throat upon awakening
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Witnessed apnea (breath holding) spells, gasping and/or choking at night
  • Morning headaches
  • Poor sleep quality, feeling un-refreshed in the morning
  • Impaired attention and concentration
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Night sweats

Is OSA treatable?

Yes! The first step is to get an accurate diagnosis. This is done by monitoring a person while they sleep. Once diagnosed, there are various treatment options available.  Your healthcare provider will suggest a treatment option depending on the factors causing the obstruction and your overall medical history.  Treatment options may include:

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
  • Mandibular advancement devices
  • Surgery (somnoplasty, UPPP, mandibular/maxillary advancement surgery or nasal surgery)
  • Conservative therapies (weight loss, limitation of alcohol or sleeping pills, positional therapy, nasal sprays, maintaining proper sleep hygiene).