Dealing with sleep apnoea

Health correspondent

Loud, heavy snoring caused by obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness and more serious medical problems.

OSA happens when the tissues of the throat relax and block your airway causing you temporarily to stop breathing (apnoea means without breath). The ensuing lack of oxygen triggers you to wake up, often with a loud snort, before falling asleep again. This can happen repeatedly during the night.

Symptoms include

  • Very loud heavy snoring, often interrupted by pauses and gasps
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness to the extent you may fall asleep at first during boring activities such as watching TV but later during other activities such as talking or eating
  • Irritability and snappiness
  • Dry mouth and morning headache
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Decreased interest in sex

Short-term mild OSA may simply be a nuisance but in severe cases it can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke. It's also linked with an increased risk of accidents at work and on the road caused by tiredness.

If you think you or your partner may suffer from OSA your doctor can refer you to a sleep clinic for assessment. Severity is measured by a special index, which assesses the number of times you stop breathing and the reduction in airflow.

Treatments include

  • Wearing a mandibular advancement device (MAD), a special gum shield, to hold your lower jaw and tongue forward creating more space to breathe
  • Using a continuous positive airways pressure (CPAP) machine. You wear a mask over your nose, which is connected to a small, quiet pump. This blows pressurised air through your nose, which in turn holds your throat open so you can breathe normally.

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