Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Obstructive Sleep Apnea
If you’ve ever had a sleepover, you probably have heard someone snore before. If this is true, there is a distinct possibility that this person could be showing signs of Sleep Apnea. Sleep Apnea is a sleeping disorder that happens when breathing is interrupted with one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep, often followed by a loud snort or choking sound signifying the restart of normal breathing.

There are two types of Sleep Apnea:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
This more common form of apnea is caused when there is a blockage in the airway, usually triggered when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)
Rather than an airway blockage, the brain stops signaling your body to breathe because of instability in the respiratory system

Although not all snoring signifies Sleep Apnea, it is one of the prime indicators that should be checked out if it is a chronic issue. The following is a list of some common symptoms for Sleep Apnea:

  • Waking up with a very sore or dry throat
  • Loud snoring
  • Waking up with a choking or gasping sensation
  • Sleepiness or lack of energy throughout the day or while driving
  • Morning headaches
  • Restless sleep
  • Forgetfulness, mood changes, decreased interest in sex
  • Waking up frequently to urinate

Causes/Risk Factors

While awake, your throat’s muscles help keep your airway open so that air can flow into your lungs. When you sleep, these muscles relax and your throat narrows accordingly. As this happens, Sleep Apnea can cause blockages for the following reasons:

  • Enlarged tongue and tonsils as compared to the size of the opening of the throat
  • Narrowing of the hard palate
  • Nasal abnormalities
  • Excess Weight – Obese people are 4 times more likely normal weight people
  • Shape of your head and neck
  • Being Male – Men are twice as likely as women to have sleep apnea
  • Being Older – All ages can have sleep apnea, but older ages are far more likely to have sleep apnea
  • Smoking – Smokers are 3 times as likely to have sleep apnea than people who have never smoked

Prevention/Treatment

If you think you have a sleeping disorder and you want to try to resolve the issue without the help of a physician first, there are a few preventative measures that you can take:

    • Avoid alcohol and medicines such as sleeping pills and sedatives prior to bed
    • Improve your diet, exercise and get to a healthy weight if you’re overweight
    • Avoid smoking – your throat muscles are less likely to collapse and narrow the airways
    • Sleep on your side

If you decide that it is time to consult your physician, it may be a good idea to keep a sleep diary for a few weeks to bring with you to your next medical appointment. Keeping track of your sleeping patterns and your state of restfulness throughout the day can be a helpful indicator for your doctor. The below is a list of the possible solutions that your physician can suggest:

  • Breathing devices – CPAP is the most common treatment for moderate to severe Sleep Apnea in adults, helping to blow air into your throat
  • Surgery – this option is often utilized to widen the breathing passages or remove excess tissue, including the tonsils
  • Keeping your nasal passages open with nasal sprays or allergy medicines at night

Sleep Apnea can be very serious, but there are several treatment plans that can help you with prevention and improving your quality of life. These treatments may also help to improve your overall health. Consult your doctor with any other questions if you are at all concerned about Sleep Apnea.