Originally published in the November Edition of Desi Australia Monthly Magazine, written by Dr Jaspreet Saini

Key points:

• Sleep apnoea can occur at any age and is the most common type of sleep apnoea

• If you have sleep apnoea, your breathing during sleep may reduce or stop

• You may not know that this is happening

• Sleep apnoea can have many health complications

• It can be successfully treated

• Treatment will improve the quality of your life

What is sleep apnoea?

Obstructive sleep apnoea is the most common type of sleep apnoea. The other type of sleep apnoea is central sleep apnoea, which is rare. For ease of reading, we will refer to obstructive sleep apnoea simply as sleep apnoea in this article.

With sleep apnoea, you may breathe less or stop breathing during sleep for a short period of time. This is called an apnoeic episode. When this happens, your oxygen levels drop until they reach a point where they trigger your reflexes to wake you up briefly and start breathing again. This can happen many times at night and you may not know that it is happening.

We call it obstructive sleep apnoea because it occurs due to obstruction of your airways. That is, the area between the nose or mouth or lungs becomes partly or fully blocked. This is more common in sleep because your airway muscles naturally relax when you sleep.

Sleep apnoea can be treated and there are a number of treatments available.

What are the symptoms of sleep apnoea?

You may have sleep apnoea if you:

• Snore

• Toss and turn at night

• Stop breathing through the night

• Wake up during the night coughing and choking

• Wake up not feeling refreshed

• Wake up with a headache in the morning

• Feel sleepy during the day

• Feel depressed, short-tempered or grumpy

• Have trouble with your concentration or memory during the day

You may not be aware of these symptoms so it is often worth asking your sleeping partner if she or he has noticed any of these changes.

What issues do people with sleep apnoea have?

Sleep apnoea can cause an early death. People with sleep apnoea are more likely to have cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease compared to people that don’t havesleep apnoea.

Sleep apnoea can cause your blood pressure to go up and down at night, and increase your blood pressure during the day (this is called hypertension). If you have sleep apnoea and are also also overweight, you may be at higher risk of diabetes and high cholesterol. Together, these factors can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Luckily, if your sleep apnoea is effectively treated, you can improve your health and reduce your risk of these conditions.

Am I at risk?

Sleep apnoea can affect people of all ages, be it children or adults.

In children, sleep apnoea is more likely if a child has largetonsils or adenoids. Children can also have narrow airways due to other reasons which can increase their risk of having sleep apnoea.

In adults, sleep apnoea is more common in middle age. It ismore common if you are a man. If you are a woman, your risk increases after menopause.

You may be at higher risk if:

1) You are a middle-aged male

2) You take alcohol, sleeping tablets or some types of medications before you sleep

3) You have a blocked nose, small jaw, large tongue, big tonsils or big uvula

4) You were born with a narrow airway or have a facestructure that leads to narrow airways

How do I know if I have sleep apnoea?

You should speak to your doctor (GP) if you are worried.

Your doctor may ask you about snoring, obesity, apnoea episodes and sleepiness during the day. It can be helpful to take your sleeping partner with you on the day of your appointment. The next step is usually an overnight sleep study, which measures your sleep, breathing and oxygen levels. This can be done at home or in a sleep clinic, and is usually done with the assistance of a sleep specialist.

What is the treatment for sleep apnoea?

If you have sleep apnoea, there are many things that you can do to manage your condition and improve your health.

If you are overweight, weight loss can be very helpful and a small decrease in your weight can greatly improve your sleep apnoea.

A CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) mask is the most common form of treatment, and works by delivering air through your nose to keep your airways open. Many people find using a CPAP machine strange at first, however are often surprised by the improvement in their daily lives.

Other useful strategies include:

• Avoiding alcohol within 2 hours of going to sleep

• Avoiding sleeping tablets

• Speaking to your doctor about other medications that you are taking

• Treating nasal congestion

• Ceasing or maintaining abstinence from smoking

For some people with sleep apnoea, surgery may be an option. You should speak with your GP about the treatments that are most suitable for you.

Where can I go for more information?

Sleep Health Foundation

Lung Foundation Australia

Australian Sleep Association

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