Sleep apnoea (or apnea) is a sleep disorder which is potentially very dangerous. A person affected with it repeatedly stops breathing during sleep. This can occur hundreds of times during the night. As a result, the body doesn’t get enough oxygen. There are three types of sleep apnoea: obstructive, central and complex sleep apnoea syndrome. Sleep apnoea is a very common condition in India, with more than 10 million cases reported each year. Men are more prone to this condition, and people aged above 40, although it can happen to younger adults as well.
Symptoms of sleep apnoea include:
- Loud snoring
- Cessation of breathing during sleep (witnessed by another person)
- Waking up abruptly short of breath
- Headache in the morning
- Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- Daytime sleepiness
- Problems with attention
- Dry mouth after waking up
- Sore throat
When to see a doctor?
See a doctor if you or your loved ones experience the above mentioned symptoms. Always trust the leading or best medical institutions for treatment and care, like Paras hospitals group, which have specialized departments for such conditions.
Causes and Risk Factors
The cause of sleep apnoea depend on its type.
- Obstructive sleep apnoea, is caused when the muscles in the back of the throat relax. The function of these muscles is to support the soft palate, the uvula (triangular flap of tissue that closes when swallowing), the tonsils, the tongue and the side walls of the throat. This relaxations of muscles leads to the narrowing of the airway, and the affected person cannot breathe adequately. Sensing this ability to breathe, the brain wakes you up, but the patient doesn’t know. A snorting, choking or gasping sound is produced when this happens, which a person sleeping near you can tell. This pattern can repeat 5 to 30 times per hour, the whole night.
- Central sleep apnoea, is less common, and is caused when the brain fails to transmit breathing signals to the body. The person affected usually wakes up with shortness of breath and has a difficult time sleeping and staying asleep.
- Complex sleep apnoea syndrome occurs when a person has both obstructive and central sleep apnoea.
Risk factors for sleep apnoea differ slightly according to its type, and include:
For obstructive sleep apnoea:
- Excess weight
- Thick neck circumference
- Narrow throat (heredity)
- Family history
- Use of alcohol and sedatives
- Nasal congestion
For central sleep apnoea:
- Being middle aged or old
- Having heart disorders
- Using sedatives and narcotic pain medicine
- People who’ve had a stroke
Treatments and Management
For mild cases of sleep apnoea, lifestyle changes such as losing weight and quitting smoking are required. For nasal allergies, doctors will recommend nasal sprays or medications. There are certain therapies and devices that manage this condition, such as:
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a machine which delivers air pressure through a mask when one sleeps
- Expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP) are single use devices, placed over each nostril before going to sleep. It is a valve which allows air to move freely.
There are oral appliances and other air pressure devices which serve the same purpose. If such treatments fail, surgery is the option left. The goal of the surgery is to widen the narrow airway via:
- Tissue removal
- Jaw repositioning
- Creating a new passageway (this is used as last resort if one has life threatening sleep apnoea)