Sleep apnoea is a disorder that is characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing (apnoeas) or abnormally low breathing during sleep. These apnoeas can occur due to a lack of respiratory effort, due to a physical blockage to airflow, or a combination of both. Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) is the most common type of apnoea and occurs where there is a physical blockage of airflow.
Individuals with OSA are rarely aware of having difficulty breathing. In fact, the person’s sleeping partner or someone that sleeps in the same room often recognises the problem. Patients suffering from OSA often feel very tired during the day and report daytime sleepiness, which they often become used to. It is not unusual for a patient with sleep apnoea to take naps during the day, fall asleep watching television or sitting in a car, or fall asleep while talking to someone. Sleep apnoea can also affect your work performance, vigilance, motivation and other behavioural or cognitive effects.
Snoring, on the other hand, is caused by the vibration of respiratory structures due to obstructed air movement during breathing while sleeping. This is often caused by the uvula (the tissue that hangs down in the back of your throat), an elongated soft palate, a large tongue or obstructions in the nasal area.
Statistics on snoring suggest that as many as 50 per cent of adults snore, while as many as one in 20 of us are affected by sleep apnoea. While someone who snores may also suffer from sleep apnoea, not all patient with sleep apnoea snore. This means that even though you do not snore, it does not mean that you do not have sleep apnoea.
If you suffer from daytime sleepiness and fatigue, and don’t feel refreshed in the morning after a good night’s sleep, you should probably consider getting medical advice. You may be advised to go to a sleep centre, where you will sleep overnight while you are connected to a variety of devices that will monitor your body functions. These include brain activity, eye movements, muscle activity, heart rhythm and oxygen saturation. An alternative to this is to take a home testing device, which will also monitor certain of your body functions, but in the comfort of your own home and bed.
Treatment options for persons suffering from snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea vary a great deal, from quite conservative treatment to invasive surgical treatment. Treatment for snoring includes positive airway pressure devices (CPAP), dental appliances (MAD) and surgeries that are customized to best address your quite individual needs.
There are many treatment options for patients with obstructive sleep apnoea. The first one is called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure device (CPAP), which is a machine that keeps the patient’s airway open during sleep by delivering a continuous flow of pressurized air into the throat. Another option is to use Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT), where a custom-made mouthpiece shifts the lower jaw forward, thereby opening the airway.
If you suspect that you suffer from snoring or sleep apnoea, the first step to take is to schedule an appointment with your GP or a sleep specialist who will perform a comprehensive examination and perhaps a sleep study. Once your doctor reviews your sleep study, your treatment plan can then be customized to address your condition and specific needs.
The outcome is often simple – a dental mouthpiece can minimise your snoring and safeguard your health – but make sure to take qualified advice. The latest developments of mouthpiece even offer self-fitting adjustable devices (SFA) to improve anti-snoring performance and give much more comfort. Choose wisely.
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By John Redfern