Obstructive Sleep Apnoea – OSA – is a condition that affects the health of millions of people around the world, but many of us don’t even realise we are living with it.
According to the World Health Organisation, over 100 million adults suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea,(1) including one in three men and almost one in five women.(2) If you experience it, it’s not just you that’s affected. Snoring is a common symptom of OSA, meaning it can have a serious impact on your loved ones as well.
What is OSA – Obstructive Sleep Apnoea?
When we fall asleep, the muscles in our throat relax. With OSA, the muscles relax too much and the airway becomes constricted, preventing normal breathing. Your brain senses that the body is being deprived of oxygen, so it wakes you up just enough to gasp for air and start breathing again, though you may not even remember it the next day. It can happen many times a night, putting immense strain on your body and inhibiting your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
How do I know if I have OSA?
One of the most recognisable symptoms of OSA is snoring. A loved one may notice chronic snoring or even gasping or choking sounds while you sleep. You may also experience a lack of energy, inability to concentrate or frequent forgetfulness during the day. Headaches, depression, weight gain and night sweats are other ways OSA can reveal itself. Despite the many symptoms, studies estimate that around 80 percent of those living with OSA do not even realise it, and their condition goes undiagnosed.(3)
What causes OSA?
Although anyone can develop OSA, there are factors that can put you at increased risk, including chronic nasal congestion, obesity and frequent alcohol consumption. If it runs in your family, you’re also at an increased risk, as are those who suffer from cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure or diabetes.
Is there any treatment for OSA?
Yes, treatments exist. If some of the symptoms mentioned above sound familiar, the first thing you should do is talk to your doctor. Poor quality sleep can have a huge impact on your health, especially in the long term. Research has found that sleep apnoea is associated with twice the risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease,(4) and six times the risk of being in a traffic accident.(5) Not to mention the impact your snoring can have on the health and quality of life of your loved ones.
The good news is that several types of treatment are available. Your primary care physician may refer you to a specialist, who might recommend a treatment known as continuous positive airway pressure, CPAP, which delivers constant airflow during sleep, to prevent disruptions. Another treatment involves the use of a mandibular repositioning device, MRD, which is worn in the mouth at night to position the tongue and jaw in a way that helps maintain airflow while you sleep. The type of treatment depends on the severity of your condition, but rest assured: you can effectively treat obstructive sleep apnoea, and sleep peacefully once more.
(1) Bousquet J., Khaltaev N. Global surveillance, prevention and control of Chronic Respiratory Diseases. A comprehensive approach. Global alliance against chronic respiratory diseases,
(2) Sleep-disordered breathing affects 34% of men and 17% of women aged between 30-70. Peppard P. et al. Increased Prevalence of Sleep-Disordered Breathing in Adults. Am J Epidemiol, 2013; (5.17).
(3) Young, T. et al. Estimation of the Estimation of the clinically diagnosed proportion of sleep apnea syndrome in middle-aged men and women. Sleep, 1997; 20(9): p.705-6.
(4) Greenberg et al. Gender differences in morbidity and health care utilisation among adult obstructive sleep apnea patients. Sleep, 2007. In this study the increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases is calculated specifically amongst women with sleep apnoea.
(5) Teran-Santos et al. The association between sleep apnea and the risk of traffic accidents, New England Journal of Medicine, 1999. In this study the increased risk of traffic accidents is calculated in the general sleep apnoea population (men and women).