Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when your breathing is disrupted during sleep, at times, for longer than ten seconds. During these periods, your breathing is reduced and you are basically not inhaling enough oxygen. Your breathing stops or becomes shallow because something is obstructing your airway.

When you sleep, the body gets to relax completely – even the muscles responsible for breathing. If you are suffering from OSA, these relaxed muscles narrows the airway, eventually disrupting your breathing.   

Facts about OSA

Anyone at any age can suffer from OSA, but it is most prevalent in middle-aged and older people. Nearly 2-4% of kids have OSA. More so, it is more prevalent in men than in women. However, what’s terrifying is that as many as 90% of patients suffering from OSA are not aware that they have it. Remember, if left untreated, it can lead to severe health issues.

Being aware of the risk factors for OSA can help you easily get a diagnosis. These risk factors include:

  • Thick or large neck (neck circumference larger than 40 cm)
  • Family member with a history of obstructive sleep apnea
  • Congestion while you sleep
  • Postmenopause
  • Overweight
  • Large or swollen tonsils and adenoids (in children)
  • Thyroid disorder or other endocrine illnesses
  • Smoking
  • Problems of the tissues which support the neck and head
  • Down syndrome
  • Deviated nasal septum

Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea

Snoring is one of the most common symptoms of OSA. Other symptoms include:

  • Snoring that is disrupted moments of quiet
  • Snoring that recommences with a loud noise as breathing starts again
  • Easily irritated
  • Maintaining attention
  • Depression
  • Difficulty remembering things
  • Morning headache
  • Frequently falling asleep during the day

Types of obstructive sleep apnea

OSA can range from mild to severe; depending on a rating system referred to as an apnea-hypopnea index (AHI). This index is used to estimate the number of hypopnea and apnea episodes that occur in a given hour when you are asleep.

Here is a classification of OSA by severity:

  • Severe OSA – AHI is greater than 30 ( experiences more than 30 episodes every hour)
  • Moderate OSA – AHI is between 15 and 30
  • Mild OSA – AHI is between 5 and 15

Treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea

The right treatment for obstructive sleep apnea depends on several factors such as the severity of the apnea, body-weight, anatomy of the upper airway, medical history, age, and degree of daytime sleepiness. A sleep specialist can help in analyzing all these factors.

That said; treatment for obstructive sleep apnea should be individualized, and may involve surgery (in selected patients), an oral appliance, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), or other medical therapies and lifestyle changes (such as reduction in alcohol consumption, weight loss, improved sleep-habits, measures to improve nasal flow, cessation of smoking and change of sleep-position).