Getting a solid night’s sleep is a vital part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately for the 50-70 million adults in the United States who suffer from a sleep disorder, it’s not always possible.
Obstructive sleep apnea is one of the most common of these disorders. Despite this fact, up to 80% of cases may remain undiagnosed.
Keep reading to learn more about severe obstructive sleep apnea, and find out if it could be the cause of your restless nights and daily fatigue.
What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by breathing that becomes shallow and/or starts and stops intermittently. This can occur multiple times throughout the night, resulting in poor sleep quality.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most frequently diagnosed type. Obstruction occurs when the throat muscles relax and collapse in on the airway. This causes the diaphragm and chest muscles to contract more forcefully, resulting in loud gasping or snoring.
In severe or moderate obstructive sleep apnea, the lack of oxygen to the brain during sleep can have serious effects on your health and quality of life. One study found that severe OSA can damage white matter in the brain, leading to lower cognition, mood, and alertness. This damage was found to be reversible with proper treatment.
The two most noticeable symptoms of OSA are loud snoring and sleepiness or fatigue during the day. Other symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Dry mouth and sore throat upon waking
- Impaired concentration and forgetfulness
- Depression, unstable mood, or irritability
- Restless sleep or waking up frequently
- Night sweats and nocturia
- Decreased libido and energy
- Morning headaches and difficulty getting out of bed
Because they occur during sleep, many of these symptoms go unnoticed by those suffering from OSA. Symptoms are often recognized instead by a partner sleeping in the same bed.
However, you may notice yourself waking up gasping or choking in the middle of the night. If so, contact your doctor right away so that you can begin testing for sleep apnea.
Prevalence and Risk Factors
It’s estimated that up to 1 in 4 of middle-aged Americans may suffer from some form of sleep apnea. Risk factors for developing OSA include:
- Large tonsils, tongue, or uvula
- Being overweight or obese
- Deviated septum
- Chronic nasal congestion
Men are more likely to develop sleep apnea than women, but the risk for everyone increases with age.
Severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea may cause significant impairment in everyday life. If you think you may qualify for disability due to your sleep apnea, make sure that you talk to your primary doctor or VA health coordinator for details.
Sleep Apnea Treatments
If you tend to sleep on your back, try sleeping on your side instead—some people with mild sleep apnea find that changing positions is sufficient to open up their airways. Avoiding alcohol and sleep medications, losing weight, and using a specialized mouth guard during sleep may also help.
Medical treatments for moderate to severe OSA include CPAP machines and nasal sprays for chronic congestion. Rarely, surgical intervention may be necessary to remove excess soft tissue from the throat or to electrically stimulate airway muscles.
What to Do If You Think You May Have Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Severe obstructive sleep apnea is a serious health condition that often requires medical intervention. If you believe you may have sleep apnea of any sort, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away. They may refer you to a sleep specialist for evaluation.
For more information on sleep and living a healthy life, check out our other blog posts.