Snoring is seen more of a bedtime annoyance for people sleeping together, but little do they know that snoring could be a sign of an underlying health issue called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). It is one of the most under diagnosed sleep disorders and is more like a silent epidemic. Very few know about the condition and fewer seek treatment.

So how do you know if you are suffering from OSA? Dr Navdeep Kumar MD (Medicine), DNB (Neurology) at Indo Gulf Hospital & Diagnostics informs, "If you snore, feel excessively sleepy during daytime, if you wake up with morning headaches, if you have trouble in concentrating, if you have frequent awakenings and you are obese, you are most likely suffering from OSA."

People suffering from OSA are said to be thrice more likely to die prematurely. Accidents and other injuries associated with poor quality sleep makes OSA even more critical. Recent data suggests that by 2020, out of a total of 23 lakh fatalities due to road accidents, an estimate of 2.3 lakh to 3.5 lakh will result from sleepiness or fatigue.

What happens in OSA?
Dr Kumar explains, "Sleep apnea occurs due to blockage of airway during sleep. During sleep if the muscles in your upper airway collapse with the muscles in the back of your throat, it interferes with the passage of air. This leads to fall in oxygen levels in the bloodstream, leading to decreased oxygen supply to the brain. Because of this, the person remains restless with frequent awakenings and does not have a refreshing sleep. Some hormonal changes also occur in OSA which lead to increased food intake, thereby resulting in weight gain."

Diagnosis

If your doctor suspects sleep apnea, he will check your nose, throat, height, weight, BMI, neck circumference. Adults with this disorder have enlarged uvula or soft palate; uvula is the tissue that hangs from the back of your mouth and soft palate is the soft skin in the back of your throat. They also have a large tongue due to increased fat deposition. Kids suffering from sleep apnea may have enlarged tonsils.

Sleep apnea is diagnosed by "overnight sleep study" also known as Polysomnography (PSG). It records brain activity, oxygen levels, heart rate, chest and abdominal movements etc.

If sleep apnea is left untreated, it would interfere with the regular day-to-day functioning of the person. Untreated OSA leads to rise in blood pressure, blood sugar levels, weight gain and depression. There is 2-3 times increased risk of heart attack and stroke in patients with untreated OSA.

Treatment

During PSG, a titration study is done in which the pressure required to keep the airways patent is measured. Then the patient is required to sleep with a face mask connected to CPAP/ BIPAP machine, which delivers the air with pressure and maintains proper oxygen levels during sleep. This also helps in weight loss and in controlling blood pressure and blood sugar levels, adds Dr Kumar.

In addition, the patient needs to lose weight by regular exercise and eat low calorie diet. Patient also needs to stop alcohol and cigarette smoking. It’s also advisable to sleep in lateral position.