One in three Singaporeans suffers from moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), and 90% of them don't know they have it.
Loud, deafening snores that give your spouse sleepless nights is actually a sign that you may have sleep apnea! This disorder causes you to stop breathing repeatedly in your sleep because of a complete or partial block in your airway.
Human invited Dr Lynne Lim, an ENT specialist with more than 20 years of experience under her belt to host a Human Session on sleep apnea. She answers many reader questions on sleep apnea.
Here's what she had to say.
There's a difference between normal snoring and sleep apnea
Not all who snore have sleep apnea, but snoring is a sign that you may be suffering from sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea occurs when there is a significant block in the airway which results in significant oxygen desaturation in the blood during sleep.
For a doctor to confirm whether you have sleep apnea or a regular snoring issue, a definitive sleep study is required.
Feeling sleepy or fatigued despite ample rest? Watch out!
People who snore loudly, stop breathing during sleep, and have sleepiness and fatigue in the day, will have an increased risk of sleep apnea.
Your facial features play a part too
If you have structural obstructions in the nose and throat, a low-lying soft palate and large tonsils, or developed chin and prolapsed base of tongue, you also have an increased risk of sleep apnea.
Chinese have the highest sleep apnea rates
Compared to Malays and Indians, Chinese have higher sleep apnea rates despite having the lowest obesity rates. Dr Lynne suggests that this is likely due to their craniofacial proportions which predispose to a narrower airway.
If you suspect you're having sleep apnea, act quickly!
Dy Lynne mentioned that many of her patients seek treatment for sleep apnea once it's way too late. They already suffer from hypertension, heart disease, diabetes…
These conditions are even harder to control despite medication and lifestyle changes, and they can be caused partly by undiagnosed sleep apnea.
A sleep study will be conducted to diagnose sleep apnea
The only way to definitively diagnose sleep apnea is through a sleep study. It can help in quantifying its severity so as to guide management.
A sleep study usually monitors your sleep overnight, including breathing patterns, blood oxygen level, blood pressure, brain activity, heart rhythm, limb movement, snore loudness levels and sleeping positions.
Don't worry! There's no pain and no needles are involved.
Severe sleep apnea is a silent killer
If you leave sleep apnea untreated for a long time, there may be dire consequences.
Dr Lynne explains that in sleep apnea, there is reduced oxygen in the blood from obstruction or a repeated collapse of the airway. With a constant lack of oxygen, it leads to significant long term side effects such as heart, hypertension and memory problems.
As it is,regular snorers are 5 times more likely to have hypertension, cholesterolaemia , diabetes, heart attack and stroke than occasional snorers.
How does sleep apnea impact your quality of life?
On a day-to-day basis, adults may experience daytime sleepiness, irritability, depression, impaired concentration/ memory, fatigue and morning headaches.
At night, there is choking or stopping of breathing episodes, grinding and wearing down of or cracked teeth, increased urination and a decrease in sex drive.
Pregnant women also have a high risk of sleep apnea
Snoring in women is often underestimated. This is especially true of those with preeclampsia blood pressure problems in pregnancy (50% of whom have sleep apnea).
It's important to seek treatment for snoring before pregnancy as medication and surgery could present problems for the fetus.
Losing weight can help to control sleep apnea
If a patient is overweight, one effective way to control sleep apnea is to lose the excess weight and maintain an ideal BMI.
It's also good for your health too, so why not? However, if you have other underlying issues, weight loss will not be able to cure it completely.
CPAP machines are used to help with sleep apnea
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is a common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. A CPAP machine is made up of a hose and mask or nosepiece to deliver constant and steady air pressure.
Children are susceptible to sleep apnea too
For children, instead of snoring, many have open mouth breathing as their nose passages are tiny. These kids may not be obese, and may even fail to thrive.
Some of the warning signs are: restless, tossing and turning in sleep with mouth open and often bed wetting. They also often wakes up irritable, hyperactive. These symptoms may be misdiagnosed as attention deficit.
Similar to adults, the long term complications include heart, hypertension and memory problems.
However, most kids do not have sleepiness like the adults.
To find out more, read Dr Lynne's full Human session on sleep apnea here.
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