Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) – How You Can Treat It
There are a number of different sleep disorders that can affect the ability to get a good night’s sleep. From insomnia and restless leg syndrome to sleepwalking and even narcolepsy, the list of things that can disrupt your sleep and leave you awake and bleary-eyed up until the wee hours of the morning.
However, one of the most serious sleep disorders to suffer from is obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA. This disorder disrupts your ability to breathe easily throughout the night, causing many interrelated symptoms and leading to possibly dangerous conditions as a result. Here’s more about OSA, its symptoms and causes, and ultimately how to treat it effectively.
What Is OSA?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition where the airways in the back of your throat become intermittently closed off – or obstructed – while you’re trying to sleep. This prevents you from breathing normally and deprives your body and brain of necessary oxygen, with the end result that your body triggers an instance of wakefulness in order to clear your airways and begin breathing again.
OSA can cause these airway obstructions several times a night, resulting in dozens of momentary instances of wakefulness. You might not remember these instances if you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, but they take their toll in the type of non-restorative sleep that can lead to extreme daytime drowsiness. This can be quite dangerous, especially if you’re behind the wheel while one of these instances of drowsiness manifests – and this makes it imperative to identify and treat OSA.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea Symptoms
There are many symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea besides daytime drowsiness. Snoring is a major indicator that you possibly suffer from OSA, as the same overly-relaxed state of your airway can cause that distinctive snoring sound as well as complete or partial airway obstruction. Other symptoms include waking up with a headache, increased depression, and elevated blood pressure.
Suffering from prolonged OSA can lead to other, more pronounced symptoms as well. Obstructive sleep apnea places your body under high levels of stress, resulting in an increase in the stress hormone cortisol in your bloodstream, and high levels of cortisol have been associated with weight gain, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. In severe cases, OSA can even lead to instances of stroke or heart disease, making it imperative to identify, diagnose, and treat this sleep disorder properly.
If you suspect you’re suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, the first step towards treating your OSA is to receive a diagnosis. This involves being tested for sleep apnea. While a sleep disorder specialist can suspect you suffer from OSA from your symptoms, in order to provide you with a definitive diagnosis they will need you to undergo a sleep study, either a fully-fledged one at a hospital or sleep center or a more abbreviated one in the comfort of your own home.
A traditional sleep study involves staying overnight in an environment where you can be closely monitored. Technicians place a number of sensors on your body to record respiration, oxygen saturation, pulse, and even brain activity. These tests are highly conclusive, but at a high cost – enduring a sleep study, while not painful, can be incredibly uncomfortable. A home sleep test, which involves a portable device that only records one or two variables overnight, is often found to be much more tolerable by those undergoing testing but does run the risk of not collecting enough information to provide a clear diagnosis, necessitating a fully-fledged sleep study as a confirmation.
Ways of Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea
After a conclusive diagnosis, it’s time to pursue treatment options for your OSA. While there’s not much in the way of obstructive sleep apnea cures, there are ways to manage the sleep disorder to alleviate your symptoms and prevent the damage that untreated OSA can wreak on your mind and body. Chief among these is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device.
A CPAP machine is a small air compressor attached to a hose that feeds an OSA sufferer with a continuous stream of air while they sleep. The air is channeled through the nose and/or mouth through a specialized face mask, pushing the airway open and preventing it from being obstructed. CPAP therapy is highly effective in many cases of obstructive sleep apnea but it’s not perfect; many individuals find it difficult to tolerate the mask, as it can be uncomfortable, hard to adapt to, and even claustrophobic. Thankfully, there are other ways to treat OSA that don’t require a CPAP device.
Depending on the severity of your obstructive sleep apnea, you may be able to treat it with less invasive methods. Mild cases of OSA have been successfully treated with medical mouthguards, devices designed by dentists that reposition the jaw and mouth slightly during sleep in order to keep airways open more effectively. While these dental devices may take some getting used to, they’re often seen as much more tolerable than a CPAP mask.
However, for more severe forms of OSA, surgical intervention may be required. One way to treat obstructive sleep apnea is to surgically remove excess tissue from the back of the throat or soft palate to provide for better air circulation, while another – surprisingly effective – method is bariatric surgery. As obesity is often seen as both a cause and a symptom of OSA, bariatric surgery used as a weight loss tool can be employed to reduce a person’s weight while also reducing the severity of OSA. In fact, research has shown that certain bariatric surgeries are anywhere between 80% and 85% effective in treating obstructive sleep apnea.
Suffering from OSA can lead to sleepless nights and miserable days, not to mention a number of dangerous and even life-threatening symptoms. Treating obstructive sleep apnea effectively is crucial, whether it’s through CPAP therapy, dental appliances, or surgical procedures. If you suspect you may be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, don’t delay in seeking diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.