Being diagnosed with an ailment for the first time usually leaves the patient surprised. For instance, you may not have any idea why you are experiencing repeated breathlessness during sleep; secondly, you are clueless as to what could be wrong with you. Then the doctor confirms that it is obstructive sleep apnea. The verdict leaves you surprised indeed.
You are desperate to know more of what can be expected from this hitherto unknown illness. You would experience frequent breathing pauses, feel excessively tired during the day and you might be surprised at the fast rate at which you gain weight. Of course, there is more in store.
What is happening to you is that you are experiencing some of the classical sleep apnea symptoms and because you did not treat snoring on time, it has in all likelihood, worsened into a more serious sleep disorder called sleep apnea.
What is this condition all about?
It is a serious sleep disorder that happens when the airway narrows. It is characterized by repeated pauses in breathing to the tune of 5 to 30 times in an hour and several times in the night. the obstructive type of this condition is most common that happens when there is a complete collapse and blockage of upper respiratory tract.
How does one know about its onset?
Despite its high rate of prevalence, this disorder remains one of the most undiagnosed and untreated health conditions. This is because a majority of the identifying features of the illness show up during sleep. it is usually the bed partner who notices the early signs and report the situation to a doctor. These include recurrent choking and gasps for air during sleep; loud snoring; intermittent pauses in breathing; restless sleep, etc.
Luckily many features eventually show up to the patient as well. These include excessive daytime sleepiness; rapid and unexplained weight gain; irritability, depression, etc.
What about diagnosis?
Doctors normally do not rely only the patient reporting of features for diagnosing the condition. A sleep apnea test is recommended that medically confirm the condition. Also known as polysomnogram examination, such a study reveals the nature of illness, severity of the condition and site of obstruction in the air way. This is the only reliable and objective diagnostic tool that guides the doctor to choose the relevant mode of therapy.
While the patient is sleeping, there are several physical and physiological parameters studied during this overnight sleep study. They include: movement of brain waves, limb, eye movements, oxygen levels in the blood, heart rate, blood pressure, loudness of snoring and more.
Is excessive sleepiness common only with this disorder?
Not really. It can indicate the onset of several types of sleep disorder. This usually leads to misdiagnosis. However there are some specific differentiators as well.
For example, if there is confusion between this condition and hypersomnia, a condition that also results in excessive sleepiness during the day, one needs to look at the age of onset of the ailment. Sleep apnea usually sets in around 50 years of age whereas the age of onset for the other sleep disorder is much earlier.
Sleep apnea treatment: what is the approach?
There are plenty of therapy options for the management of this disorder. However, choice depends completely on how serious the condition is. For managing mild to moderate conditions, doctors prefer putting the patient on CPAP therapy along with recommendations for weight loss, alcohol abstinence, raising pillow height, changing sleeping posture, etc.
For the management of severe obstructive sleep apnea, surgery is often the best option. A few popular choices are genioglossus advancement; mandibular myotomy, tracheotomy, uvulo-palato-pharyngoplasty (UPPP), laser assisted uvuloplasty (LAUP), hyoid suspension; maxillomandibular surgery; and bariatric surgery.