Ever had someone tell you that you snore in your sleep? Or you never feel well rested in the morning, even though you have had a good eight hours to rest? You might be suffering from sleep apnoea — a very common condition amongst people. Dr Rajeev Nerurkar, renowned ENT surgeon and specialist in conditions like sleep apnoea, talks about its symptoms and treatment options.
What is sleep apnoea?
Sleep apnoea is described as a symptom complex (group of symptoms) or a syndrome characterized by erratic breathing while sleeping. Because of this a person’s oxygen level in the blood falls, (sometimes drastically) at regular intervals without the person even knowing it. Typically the person feels very sleepy during the day, wakes up very often during the night, and experiences general fatigue.
What happens is, there are involuntary pauses during sleep which are called apnoeic events. During the pauses, there is no or reduced intake of oxygen and no exhaling of carbon dioxide. Hence, the oxygen levels in the blood drop and carbon dioxide levels increase. The number of these events and the level of oxygen level drop determines the severity of the sleep apnoea. The more severe it is, faster and severe will be its effects such as extreme fatigue, lack of concentration, high blood pressure, respiratory complications, depression and heart ailments.
Most people don’t know about sleep apnoea and think that snoring is just something to laugh off. But it can be quite dangerous. There are conditions that predispose people to the condition, they are
- those who have very little or no physical activity,
- those who snore heavily while asleep,
- people with thyroid disorders,
- those who drink alcoholic beverages
- those who have other obstructions in their breathing passages
- conditions like deviation of the nasal septum (where the center bridge of the nose tilts to either the left or the right)
- or those with a bulky tongue.
Rarely, there are cases where sleep apnoea is linked to inflamed tonsils or adenoids. Research has also shown that habits such as eating fried, high-calorie junk food are linked to the condition.
Usually, a sleep study and endoscopy are required to know that a person is suffering from sleep apnoea.
Early and milder forms of sleep apnoea can and should be treated with changes in lifestyle, eating and drinking habits. Another important change that has to be implemented is to change one’s sleeping posture such as lying on side. An important step is to manage the associated medical conditions such as hypothyroidism and obesity.
In the case of more advanced or non-responding sleep apnoea, there are ways to manage the condition surgically. Surgeries like tonsillectomy (removal of the tonsils), adenoidectomy (removal of adenoids), surgery to reduce the size of a bulky tongue, or a corrective surgery for the straightening of a deviated nasal septum etc. help relieve the conditions. Other non-surgical methods include wearing a breathing mask attached to a pressure pump every night which delivers air at increased pressure to the breathing passages and lungs. This method can be combined with surgical methods to help the patient.
Will anti-snoring devices that are commercially available help a person resolve sleep apnoea?
Dr Rajeev Nerurkar says,
'Though there are some unique products that are available in the market to stop snoring, it is unlikely that they will offer a significant relief since Snoring and Sleep apnoea are two different entities. At best they can offer a temporary solution.'
Anyone who suffers from sleep apnoea is more at risk of a sudden cardiac death and also death due its other systemic effects.
Finally, sleep apnoea is a serious condition, the best thing to do in cases of severe snoring is to visit your doctor.
The content has been verified by
Dr Rajeev Nerurkar
, renowned ENT surgeon.