Breath In


Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a condition that affects many around the world. Here we discuss what it is and how to solve it for the peaceful sleep of sufferers and their spouses.

By Israel Burdeinick M.D.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a common and serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops for 10 seconds or more during sleep due to an upper airway collapse that occurs during the breathing inspiratory phase. Usually associated with snoring, coughing and waking up during sleep.

It is up to four times more common in men than in women. However, it is also likely to occur in women during pregnancy and after menopause.

Those temporary episodes of Apnea can be as frequent as 30 per hour causing deficit in tissue oxygenation (hypoxia). Hypoxia during sleep can seriously affect health leading to hypertension and in elderly people to heart disease or cardiac failure.

Most people do not realize they are affected by OSA. Usually it is the bed partner or a family member, especially in children’s cases, who notices the signs of OSA.

  1. Signs and Symptoms to recognize OSA includes:
  2. Loud snoring associated with temporary cessation of breathing
  3. Choking or coughing during sleep
  4. Sudden and frequent awakenings at night
  5. Tiredness and excessive daytime sleepiness
  6. Lack of concentration
  7. Depression or irritability
  8. Increased risk of accidents

First of all, suspect OSA if you or your relative has these symptoms, then, consult your doctor. He will prescribe a PSG sleep study (polysomnogram), the most common sleep study for diagnosing sleep apnea.

Possible options include:

  1. Weight loss, if needed. Losing even 10% of your weight can make a difference.
  2. Avoid alcohol and sleeping pills, which make the airway more likely to collapse during sleep.
  3. Quit smoking. Cigarette smoking worsens swelling in the upper airway.
  4. Sleeping on your side can help if you only get mild sleep apnea when you sleep on your back.
  5. If the cause is excessive adenoid or tonsillar tissue, medical treatment or surgical removal is needed.
  6. If sinus or nasal congestion make it harder to breathe while you sleep, doctor-prescribed nasal sprays can be used.
  7. Dental appliances which reposition the lower jaw and tongue. A number of devices are available from your dentist. You may need to try different devices before finding one that works for you.
  8. CPAP machine. This device delivers continuous air pressure through a mask placed over your nose, mouth or both while sleeping. The air pressure is just enough to prevent the upper airway tissues from collapsing during sleep avoiding snoring, apnea episodes and hypoxia.

Other types of positive airway pressure devices are available including the BiPAP which has two levels of air flow with a higher pressure when you inhale and a lower pressure when you exhale.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is the leading therapy for sleep apnea. The majority of people who use CPAP find immediate symptom relief and are delighted with their increased energy and mental sharpness during the day. Many patients have said, “CPAP changed my life!”

Along with these treatments, you may read, hear or see TV ads about alternative treatments for sleep apnea, such as the following:

  • Inspire UAS (Upper Airway Stimulator): a recently FDA approved device surgically implanted system that senses breathing patterns and delivers mild stimulation to key airway muscles .
  • Winx Sleep Therapy System: an oral appliance that generates negative pressure in the oral cavity and stabilizes the tongue position, thus enlarging the upper airway.
  • Night Shift: a device worn on the back of the neck that vibrates until the user changes position.
  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty: a surgical procedure that removes tissue to enlarge the upper airway.

Prevention is the most important way to be as healthy as you can.

  • Fight obesity by keeping a balanced diet and doing physical activity.
  • Drink enough water. We need to drink at least 6 cups of water daily. Other fluids like milk, tea or juice will contribute to your total.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Cut down your stress practicing deep conscious breathing throughout the day.
  • Get enough sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, healthy adults (26-64) need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night and older adults (65+) need 7 to 8 hours to function at their best.

If you suspect you are suffering OSA or any similar sleep disorder, talk about it with your doctor.