Respiratory Medicine, Ear Nose & Throat Surgery

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA)

Introduction to Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA)

Sleep apnoea is a sleeping condition where normal breathing during sleep is interrupted.

Written by Doctify Team 27/04/2020

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea?

Sleep apnoea is a sleeping condition where normal breathing during sleep is interrupted. Apnoea means a temporary absence of breathing and is caused when the muscles in the walls of the throat relax and block the airway. It is a relatively common condition and tends to affect more men than women. It is estimated that in the UK 1 in 25 middle-aged men and 1 in 50 women suffer with sleep apnoea. Many people do not know they have sleep apnoea and many cases are undiagnosed.

What are the causes for OSA?

Sleep apnoea is caused when the tissue in you throat and neck relaxes and causes a blockage in your windpipe, which results in an interrupted supply of oxygen to your body. The brain recognises when your blood oxygen levels begin to fall and forces you to take in a sudden big breath of air, this is what causes the loud breathing noises.

Being overweight is a major risk factor to developing sleep apnoea, as excessive body fat can put pressure on the throat and cause breathing difficulties. Taking sedative medication can also cause sleep apnoea as a strong sedative may over-relax the muscles in the throat. Other things that increase your risk of sleep apnoea are being male, being over 40 years old, having a large collar size, drinking alcohol, smoking and in women- the menopause.

What are the symptoms of OSA?

As the majority of symptoms occur at night, it is usually your sleeping partner who notices them. Signs of sleep apnoea in someone are loud snoring, noisy and laboured breathing, periods where breathing seems to stop and then start abruptly. People may also experience night sweats and frequent urination at night.

People with sleep apnoea will be unaware of their breathing during the night. But when you wake up, you will feel as though you haven’t had a good night sleep and you may also wake up with a headache. During the day you may feel sleepy, irritable and have a lack of concentration.

How is OSA treated?

Sleep apnoea is treated by making lifestyle changes and using special equipment while you sleep. If being overweight is causing your sleep apnoea, loosing weight will really help to improve your symptoms, similarly stopping smoking and limiting alcohol consumption will help reduce symptoms.

As well as these lifestyle modifications some people with sleep apnoea will need special equipment to help them breathe at night. The machine, called a CPAP device, delivers compressed air through a facemask into your lungs while you sleep. A specialist respiratory doctor will be able to further advise you on the condition and treatment.

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