Obstructive Sleep Apnoea – the key facts you must know
Everything you need to know about Obstructive Sleep Apnoea
Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is among the most common sleep disorders. It is believed OSA affects nearly 5% of the adult population.
This page will explain what Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is, the symptoms, the treatments and more.
What is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea?
Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is a sleep disorder. People with OSA will have their breathing repeatedly interrupted during their sleep. Physical blockages in the throat cause these interruptions. Typically it is loose or fatty tissue that temporarily blocks the airway, but it can also be caused by a recessed jaw. These interruptions occur at least every ten minutes, but can be as frequent as every 30 seconds.
These interruptions significantly impair sleep quality. The body is unable to reach the deep, restorative levels of sleep it requires. As a result, Obstructive Sleep Apnoea patients often experience excessive tiredness and lethargy. They may also experience difficulty concentrating or be grumpy and irritable. In the vast majority of cases, they will snore frequently and loudly during sleep. Often the snoring is punctuated by brief pauses, and/or choking noises as the obstruction takes please.
What are the symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea?
The main symptoms are:
- Loud, regular snoring
- Observed breathing interruptions / choking during sleep
- Excessive tiredness during the day
You can read the full list of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea symptoms here.
Is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea dangerous?
Yes. Having Obstructive Sleep Apnoea and leaving it untreated increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, among other health problems.
Obstructive Sleep Apnoea denies the body the deep, restorative sleep it needs. It also places additional strain on the heart, as the frequent breathing interruptions deplete oxygen levels. The heart has to work hard to restore levels back to normal.
This is in addition to the daily excessive tiredness levels most with the condition experience. This can cause them to be irritable and lack concentration; often causing problems both at work and at home. In addition, the tiredness can greatly increase the risk of them causing an accident should they operate machinery or drive a vehicle.
If you experience symptoms of OSA it is recommended to conduct a sleep study. Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnoea provides significant benefits in both the short and long term. Being able to sleep properly again (often for the first time in years) can be truly life-changing.
How to test for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea
A sleep study is how to have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea confirmed.
There are various tests for this condition. The majority will use a finger probe to monitor oxygen levels and heart rate during the night. Typically, when an apnoea (breathing interruption) occurs, oxygen levels on the blood will drop. The heart rate will then increase to raise the levels back to normal. If the study shows regularly fluctuations (particularly the oxygen levels) this is a key sign of OSA.
Other more in-depth studies may also monitor body position, chest movements, nasal airflow and other parameters to build a more definitive picture.
To have a sleep study conducted on the NHS, you will need to discuss your symptoms with your GP. They may then refer you to a Sleep Clinic, who will determine which study would be appropriate. This process can take a few weeks, or several months. It will typically involve an overnight stay in a hospital as they assess your sleep.
There is also the option of having a study conducted at home. These use the same equipment, and are analysed by an NHS-trained sleep technician also, so the results would be identical. The study is done in your own home. A private study ensures the results are returned in days. Prices start at £99. You can read our guide to choosing an in-home sleep study if this is an option for you.
How to treat Obstructive Sleep Apnoea
CPAP is the primary treatment method for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. This stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure.
Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is caused by the airway being regularly blocked or restricted. CPAP creates air pressure in the airway, which gives more support and prevents the obstructions.
The therapy typically consists of a mask worn on the face, a machine to create the air pressure, and a tube to connect the two together.
CPAP can take some time to get used to. The mask in particular can take some trial and error to become comfortable with. The sensation of air being pushed into the airway often requires a period of adjustment. However, when comfortable, CPAP is highly effective and can be a life-changing therapy.
If your NHS sleep study confirms that you have OSA, then a CPAP machine is typically the first treatment option provided.
You can find out everything you need to know about CPAP therapy in our dedicated section here.
Are there alternatives treatments for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea?
CPAP is the standard treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. In severe cases, it is usually the only option.
Other treatments are available for Mild or Moderate Obstructive Sleep Apnoea.
Mandibular Advancement uses a mouth device to move the lower jaw forward. This increases the size of the airway, which makes it less prone to blockages.
Positional Therapy keeps the person on their side while asleep. In some OSA cases, the condition is only present when the person is on their back. Therefore, keeping them on their side can be enough to treat the condition.