Sleep apnea affects nearly 20 million people in North America. It is an epidemic illness, and we are only beginning to realize how serious it is. Most people quickly associate snoring (and the sudden stoppage of snoring) in the middle of the night with obstructive sleep apnea. There are, however, many less obvious issues that can paint the condition as an invisible illness, like excessive daytime sleepiness. This disease affects patients on a daily basis, robbing them of productivity, focus and the ability to lead normal lives.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Also called OSA, this condition is the most common form of sleep apnea there is. It is caused by the tissues located at the back of the throat collapsing due to relaxation of the airway. This limits the amount of air taken in and causes snoring. Those with this ailment tend to cease breathing for ten seconds or more several times an hour throughout the night.

Warning Signs

Obviously, most people who snore do not realize they have the problem. They are not the ones being kept awake by noise in the night and, if they are not told about it, may never realize there is a problem. However, there are two clear warning signs of obstructive sleep apnea: excessive tiredness during the day and a struggle to stay awake even though the patient got a full night’s rest.

While excessive sleepiness during the day serves as a primary indicator of the condition, other symptoms of OSA can include the following:’

  • Headaches in the morning
  • Insomnia
  • Dry mouth or sore throat
  • Frequent nighttime urination
  • Difficulty with focus and concentration
  • Memory and learning issues
  • Irritability, depression or mood swings

The Reason for Sleepiness

OSA causes a disruption in the normal sleep cycle of those who suffer with the problem. Even though they may not realize it, their body has lost vital time needed to repair and rejuvenate while it struggles with the loss of air. This results in heightened risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and diabetes. In addition, the practical risks of excessive tiredness can present life-threatening issues — falling asleep at the wheel of a car, for example.

What to Do

The up side of all of this is that sleep apnea is very treatable. Sometimes it is related to weight and simply getting healthy can alleviate the problem. Other times a CPAP machine can be applied to help the person breathe at night. Additional treatments can include special nasal devices, surgery or oral appliances.

The first step, however, is diagnosis. The person who suffers from excessive snoring, lapses in breathing or who experiences any of the symptoms listed above should see a qualified ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist for testing at a sleep clinic. These tests involve monitored sleeping for the presentation of symptoms, after which the doctor can diagnose and treat the problem.

If you think you or a loved one may be suffering from OSA, we may be able to help. Give us a call for answers to all of your questions.