Ralf's wife told him his snoring was as bad as ever, and he was choking during the night. The headaches in the morning were starting to affect his job, so Ralf made an appointment with his doctor to get checked out. He was quickly diagnosed, with sleep apnea. (Some people call it sleep apnoea)
There are two types of sleep apnea, obstructive (OSA) and central (CSA)
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common and involves a physical obstruction of the upper airways. Your tongue and soft palate block your throat while you're trying to breath.
This obstruction doesn't always cause apnea. This is the most severe result of the blockage. Often though snoring and very shallow breathing, known as hypopnea, will result.
You will be at a higher risk of OSA is you have one of several predispositions
- A smaller than normal airway size, due to a larger tongue or soft palate, or swollen throat.
- Weak musles in the upper throat. This may be an unavoidable characteristic, or brought on by excessive alchol intake or a neurological disorder.
- Obstruction caused by nasal congestion. Many reasons exist for nasal congestion, but if you have a chronic complaint, like an allergic reaction that causes swelling, a side effect of a drug or a long term illness than these can all lead to the obstruction
Central sleep apnea is far less ommon and is due to neurological disorders which reduce the bodies abilities to look after itself
Symptoms to watch out for
- Excessive daytime sleepiness and tiredness.
- Nocturnal problems such as loud snoring, thrashing in bed, choking while asleep, making weird noises, pain reactions or mini 'seizures'
- Headaches in the morning
- Sexual dyfunction
Obstructive sleep apnea can be managed by your doctor but if it's undiagnosed, or left untreated, than there is a signifigantly higher risk of cardiovascular disease and motor vehicle accidents. Ralph was shocked when he saw the statistics and realized what his death would mean to his wife and kids.
You will be at a higher risk of having OSA if you're obese, unfit, keep odd sleeping hours, drink alcohol before sleeping, smoke cigarettes, take sleeping pills or have a chronicly blocked nose
Ralph's doctor put him through several steps to help with his problem.
- He lost weight, nearly 10kg, which made a big difference in many areas of his life
- He began to excersize and got fit for the first time since school
- he started going to sleep at the same time each night, didn't watch TV in bed and practiced some relaxation techniques
- He stopped taking sleeping pills to help him sleep but left him feeling drugged the next day
- Stopped drinking during the week and has (nearly!) stopped smoking
- Sleeping on your stomach or side may help with sleep apnea
At the moment these measures appears to be working, but Ralph still wakes up groggy and with a headache. He feels much better and can finally chase after his children. Unfortunatley his wife is still woken up by his snoring.
The next step is a few nights in a sleep clinic and using a Continuous positive airway pressure CPAP machine.
It's currently the most effective way to treat sleep apnea. You wear a mask over your nose, or face and it uses air to hold open your throat. Most patients report a big increase in sleepiness and can think better in the morning.