What Causes Obstructive Sleep Apnoea?

Despite being a common condition, obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) can have potentially serious consequences. But what causes it, and what are the possible solutions?

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) refers to periods of interrupted breathing during sleep, which occur as a result of the upper airway muscles relaxing and restricting the airways. In standard apnoea the airways are blocked for 10 seconds or more; in hypopnoea the airways are constantly partly obstructed with a lower airflow.

There is a fundamental difference between the causes of OSA, which can range from obesity to hereditary issues, and the less common Central Sleep Apnoea. This develops as a result of the brain failing to send signals to breathing muscles during sleep, thereby greatly diminishing airflow.

Snore A Lot?

Your bed buddy may be first person to spot potential signs of OSA, for example loud snoring, though snoring itself is not always a symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea. Other symptoms of OSA include loud breathing during sleep, night time sweats, high blood pressure and a reduced sex drive.

According to Jonathan Jun from the John Hopkins Center of Sleep, OSA can profoundly impact your ability to perform day-to-day tasks, “We’re talking about car accidents in the daytime, lost productivity at work, mood swings, waking up feeling groggy and falling asleep in class.”

Who’s at Risk?

The NHS says that OSA is more common in the over-40s, menopausal women where hormonal changes lead the throat to relax more, and men with a collar size of over 17 inches. Genetics can be equally influential, though environmental factors such as drinking, smoking and using medications with a sedative effect are far more likely to increase your chances of developing OSA.

If these measure don’t work, see your doctor, who may recommend one of two devices. A dental appliance known as an MAS or mandibular advancement splint can improve the symptoms of OSA by gently keeping the lower jaw forward to allow airways to remain open. A good MAS will be made to measure and fitted by a dentist.

The adanced  option is CPAP, the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure device, an air pump attached to a breathing mask. Modern CPAP machines have overcome some of the side effects of earlier designs such as nasal dryness and sore throat by incorporating humidifiers.

See Also: Sleep Disorders and Medical Solutions

This feature was originally published in the winter edition of Live to 100 with Dr Hilary Jones, which you can read here

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