Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep, lasting longer than 10 seconds each time, and happening at least 5 times per hour on average throughout the night. These interruptions are termed hypopneas when your breathing is reduced and you’re not getting enough oxygen, or apneas when your breathing stops altogether. The blockage typically occurs in the upper airway due to factors like muscle relaxation, tongue position, or other tissue obstructions.

The severity of obstructive sleep apnea is determined by a metric called the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), which calculates the average number of apnea and hypopnea episodes per hour of sleep. It’s categorized as follows:

  • Severe sleep apnea (more than 30 episodes per hour)
  • Moderate obstructive sleep apnea (AHI between 15 and 30)
  • Mild obstructive sleep apnea (AHI between 5 and 15)

Let’s take a look at who is susceptible to obstructive sleep apnea and what OSA symptoms are.

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Who is Susceptible to Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Identifying the risk factors associated with obstructive sleep apnea is crucial for obtaining a diagnosis. These risk factors encompass:

  • Family history of obstructive sleep apnea
  • Having a large or thick neck (exceeding 16 inches for women and 17 inches for men)
  • Persistent nasal congestion
  • Presence of a thyroid disorder or other endocrine conditions
  • Postmenopausal status
  • Being overweight
  • Structural abnormalities in the tissues supporting the head and neck
  • Down syndrome
  • Smoking habit
  • Enlarged or swollen adenoids and tonsils (in children)

Sleep apnea symptoms may be slightly different in people at risk.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Symptoms in Adults

Symptoms of OSA may and may not include the following:

  • Snoring
  • Daytime fatigue or sleepiness
  • Witnessed episodes of breathing cessation during sleep followed by gasping or choking
  • Waking up due to snoring or breathlessness
  • Night sweats
  • Frequent nighttime urination
  • Morning headaches
  • Heartburn (GERD)
  • Chest pain during the night
  • Restless sleep
  • Preference to avoid sleeping on the back
  • Erectile dysfunction in men
  • Decreased libido
  • Memory problems
  • Changes in personality
  • Feelings of depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased risk of accidents while driving or at work
  • Reduced physical activity or exercise
  • Poor performance at work or school

Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children

Sleep apnea in children may manifest differently. Symptoms of pediatric sleep apnea comprise:

  • Hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating, or academic underperformance, resembling symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Loud snoring
  • Bedwetting
  • Regular arm or leg movements during sleep
  • Sleeping in unusual positions or with the neck extended
  • Reflux (heartburn) or night sweats

When to Seek Medical Advice?

It’s important to consult a healthcare professional if you experience or if your partner notices the following:

  • Loud snoring that disrupts your sleep or the sleep of others
  • Waking up suddenly gasping or choking
  • Brief pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Experiencing excessive daytime drowsiness, which may lead to falling asleep during tasks like working, watching television, or driving

Keep in mind that snoring alone doesn’t always indicate a serious issue, and not everyone who snores has obstructive sleep apnea.

If you snore loudly, especially if it’s accompanied by periods of silence, it’s recommended to discuss this with a member of your healthcare team. Snoring may be most pronounced – and episodes of breath pauses (apneas) may be more frequent – when sleeping on your back.

Additionally, talk to your family doctor about any sleep-related problems that consistently leave you feeling fatigued, sleepy, and irritable. Excessive daytime sleepiness may be a symptom of other conditions, such as narcolepsy, rather than a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep Study

A sleep study, also known as polysomnography, is a diagnostic procedure used to confirm obstructive sleep apnea and assess the severity of breathing disturbances. Typically conducted in a specialized sleep laboratory within a sleep center or hospital, it involves an overnight stay. Alternatively, some sleep studies can be conducted at home using portable sleep monitoring devices.

There are 2 main types of sleep studies:

  1. Full-night sleep study. This involves monitoring various body functions throughout the entire night at a sleep laboratory. If OSA is diagnosed during a full-night study, additional tests may be necessary for treatment planning.
  2. Split-night sleep study. In this type of study, the night is divided into two parts. The first part is used to diagnose OSA, and if confirmed, the second part is utilized for treatment planning.

The number of breathing movements per hour detected during a sleep study, combined with symptoms of sleep apnea, helps doctors determine the severity of the condition and develop appropriate treatment strategies.

Serious Complications of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea poses significant dangers as it can lead to various complications, many of which are severe or life-threatening. These complications include:

  1. Heart damage and heart failure. Sleep apnea elevated pressure in the blood vessels surrounding the heart and within its chambers, straining the heart and leading to muscle damage.
  2. Arrhythmias, particularly atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation disrupts blood flow in the upper left chamber of the heart, increasing the risk of blood clot formation and potential stroke.
  3. Sudden death. Certain severe arrhythmias associated with sleep apnea can result in sudden cardiac arrest, a life-threatening condition.

Sleep apnea is typically a chronic, long-term condition. While some individuals may find relief through weight loss or specific treatments, for others, it may persist as a lifelong condition.

Do you think you have one or more symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea? Contact Dream Sleep Respiratory for a sleep diagnosis, and we will help you to sleep well again.

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