Sleep apnea is a condition that causes the throat to relax and narrow during sleeping. This can stop you from breathing during sleep and interrupt a person’s sleep – causing an increased risk of developing a whole host of medical conditions. Current estimates suggest that anywhere between 3 and 7% of the US population suffers from the disease. Recent reports suggest that the disease can also be a significant public health risk, and sufferers should seek specialist treatment promptly.
How do you know you are suffering from obstructive sleep apnea?
Patients usually can’t spot the signs in themselves (because they are asleep) and often a partner will spot the signs. These can include:
- Noisy breathing during sleep
- Loud snoring
- Periods where the person stops breathing or gasps/snorts
- Night Sweats
- Waking up frequently during the night to go to the toilet
Some people are more likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. Major risk factors include:
- Being overweight or obese – the excess fat around the neck means there is increased strain on the muscles keeping the throat open.
- Male – the disorder is more common in men but it is not known why
- Age – people over 40 years of age are more likely to suffer
Obstructive sleep apnea and public safety concerns
A recent report on reuters.com suggests the disease could be a serious public safety concern. The US National Transportation Safety board identified two engineers involved in the New York City area commuter train crashes suffered from obstructive sleep apnea and both had no recollection of the crashes (due to being asleep from fatigue caused by the disease).
As such, overweight individuals or those at high risk of sleep apnea should be screened for the disease if operating heavy machinery such as a commuter train. These revelations come after news that the Trump administration will roll back efforts to have all railroad engineers and truck drivers to undergo screening for obstructive sleep apnea.
What treatments are available for sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is best diagnosed and treated by a sleep specialist as there are a number of good treatment options that can relieve sufferers. Treatment will be personalized to the individual, but they may be offered:
- Advice and help making lifestyle changes – this includes losing weight and reducing alcohol intake
- Prescribed a CPAP (continuous airway positive pressure) device – this machine blows air into the patient’s lungs stopping the airway from collapsing during sleep
- Specially made gum shields can also be offered. These are made to fit an individual’s mouth and prevent the tongue from slipping to the back of the mouth. The resultant increased in space at the back of the mouth can stop obstruction and help patients sleep.
- Surgery is also an option for patients whose disease is not treated by any of the following.
If you suffer from fatigue and are at risk of developing the disease, ask your doctor about screening for the disease.