Do you snore very loudly that even your dog wouldn’t sleep next to you? There are millions of people who snore heavily, and many of them have this potentially serious condition called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and are not even aware of it. If your answer is yes to the previous question, then there is an increased possibility that you are suffering from this condition, too.
What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea? It is basically the relaxing of throat and nasal membranes during sleep, this blocks the air passages and deprives your lungs of incoming air through the nose or mouth. It results in the stoppage of normal breathing that ranges from a few seconds, to an extreme couple of minutes, usually occurring several hundred times a night! This leads to a lack of oxygen going to the brain and body, and could lead to heart failure, hypertension and other ailments. However, the most common effect of Obstructive Sleep Apnea is fatigue. Even so, because a person with Obstructive Sleep Apnea does not really achieve a restful sleep, the condition usually results in daytime sleepiness that may turn into serious accidents while driving.
As long as I can remember, I have always snored very loudly. However, I never paid attention to the telltale signs that I may have Obstructive Sleep Apnea until only about seven years ago, when I decided to have myself checked just for the heck of it.
One of the most notable symptoms I had was that the back of my throat was always red and irritated. I was a choir member in church, and noticed that because my throat was tender, I frequently coughed when trying to sing the high notes. I didn’t realize at that time that the reason to this was because my throat was being blocked by the soft palate in my throat area. The air was being forcefully inhaled by my lungs between the throat and soft palate which was blocking it, and also caused my extremely loud snoring. Another sign was that I would suddenly wake up in the middle of the night, gasping for air. This was my body waking up because of air deprivation. My lungs has not breathed in for an extended time that it had to wake me up in a hurry. Also, since I seldom went into deep sleep, I never had enough rest. I was tired even after the times I was in bed for seven hours or more.
Luckily for many of us, Obstructive Sleep Apnea is now very treatable. But it needs to be diagnosed first before the doctor can do anything. The first step I did was to seek out a sleep disorder specialist, so you need to seek a specialist close to where you live. During your appointment, the doctor will schedule you for a sleep study. What this means is that they will ask you to sleep in their clinic with a whole bunch of wires and sensors attached to your face, arms and body. You will be asked to bring your normal sleeping clothes so you are comfortable, and sleep in the clinic until the morning. Some doctors will ask you to take home a monitoring device to attach to your finger while sleeping, and then bring it back to the office so they can retrieve the results.
In my case, I had to sleep in the clinic and came home at around 6:30 the following morning. I remember having a good sleep that night, even with the wires attached to me. I have to admit though that having a pretty nurse attending to you, and waking up to, made my experience a lot better too :) Anyway, it turned out that I had Obstructive Sleep Apnea and, are you ready for this? I stopped breathing 435 times that night, and the longest episode lasted 90 seconds! This condition was considered ‘severe’.
So now that I knew I have Obstructive Sleep Apnea. What now? The first thing that the doctor ordered was a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP or “CePAP”) therapy using a CPAP machine (see image). The easiest way to describe this CPAP/CePAP machine is that it is a small table-top device that continuously blows air into your nose through a hose to keep your nasal passages from collapsing. A CPAP machine is only available with a prescription and the air pressure settings are preset by the doctor. There are several CPAP manufacturers and models available, the CPAP mask that go over your nose are also available in different sizes.
There was one thing the doctor told me though, this is that I am stuck with this CPAP machine for life. I have to keep using it every night, during naps, and bring it with me during vacation. So even during our yearly camping trips, I brought my CPAP machine, powered by a 12v car battery.
The doctor also told me that as long as the CPAP therapy is working for me, I should be okay. There are however other options for other patients with a more severe condition which included surgery (trimming of the upper palette) to prevent blockage of the throat. But for the most us though, CPAP therapy should be enough.
So what does one look for to suspect if he/she has Obstructive Sleep Apnea? If the person is experiencing the following, make an appointment with an EENT (Eyes, Ears, Nose and Throat) doctor :
- Loud and chronic snoring
- Choking, snorting, or gasping for air during sleep
- Long pauses in breathing while asleep
- Daytime sleepiness, no matter how much time you spend in bed
Children too, can suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Here is what to look for:
In addition to continuous loud snoring, children with Obstructive Sleep Apnea may adopt strange sleeping positions and suffer from bedwetting, excessive perspiration at night, or night terrors. Children with Obstructive Sleep Apnea may also exhibit changes in their daytime behavior, such as:
- Hyperactivity or inattention
- Developmental and growth problems
- Decrease in school performance
- Irritable, angry, or hostile behavior
- Breathing through mouth instead of nose
Ever since I was diagnosed and treated, my wife has also slept well, since the CPAP machine stopped the snoring. Just imagine how grateful she has been :) Also, I now dream regularly, rarely tired and sleepy at work, and can now sing the high notes without coughing.
If you suspect that you may have Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), consult your doctor. Also, visit these other resources: