House Calls: Wake up to a possibility of sleep disorder

By Doron Andrews July 23, 2012 05:40 pm

House Calls runs every other Saturday. Today’s column is written by Doron Andrews, a respiratory therapist at Sutter Ctoast Community Clinic.

Can snoring ruin a marriage? Some of you reading this are already nodding your head. This is a frequent problem within many marriages that nobody is paying enough attention to.

The scenario usually happens like this: The husband snores. The wife nudges him to flip over. Both wake up feeling grouchy the next morning. The lack of sleep for both partners puts a strain on the marriage and creates a hostile and tense situation.

But the issues concerned with snoring are far more severe than marital issues, and in some cases can be life-threatening. Snoring can be strongly associated with a medical disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a serious health problem in men and women of any age that should be treated.

It occurs when the tissue (tongue) in the back of the throat collapses and blocks the airway, which may stop breathing efforts for 10 to 20 seconds or more. When your body stops breathing, the oxygen level in the blood decreases, leaving the individual vulnerable to serious health complications. Today we will talk about the risks associated with sleep apnea, signs and symptoms, and different types of treatments to help alleviate snoring and sleep apnea.

• Risks: Some 12 million Americans have sleep apnea, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, you have a 65 percent greater chance of having high blood pressure, stroke, or heart attack. Sleep apnea patients are nearly five times more likely to have serious car crashes than other drivers due to daytime sleepiness.

• Signs and symptoms: Here are some factors that increase the chance of having sleep apnea.

Excess weight — neck circumference greater than 17 inches (43 centimeters) is associated with an increased risk of obstructive sleep apnea.

High-blood pressure (hypertension) — Sleep apnea is more common in people with hypertension.

Being male — Men are twice as likely to have sleep apnea.

Older age — Sleep apnea occurs two to three times more often in adults older than 65.

Use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers — These substances relax the muscles in your throat, making it harder for you to breathe when lying down.

Smoking — Smokers are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea.

• Treatments: Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder that has no cure, but can be controlled by the following devices.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) — If you have moderate to severe sleep apnea, you may benefit from a machine that delivers air pressure through a mask placed over your nose while you sleep.

BiPap (Bi level positive airway pressure) — If CPAP continues to be a problem for you, you may be able to use a different type of airway pressure device that automatically adjusts the pressure while you’re sleeping called Bipap.

Oral appliances — Another option is wearing an oral appliance designed to keep your throat open. CPAP is more effective than oral appliances, but oral appliances may be easier for you to use.

Surgery — Removing tissues in the back of your throat may help reduce snoring but this is not recommended as the sole treatment.

Now that you have a detailed description of what obstructive sleep apnea is, the next thing you should ask: What do I do now? The answer is easy. Sutter Coast Hospital is here to give you the best care options we offer.

 The first step is to look in the mirror and say, “Sleep is my friend and not my enemy.” Or you can try these measures:

Lose excess weight — Even a slight loss in excess weight may help relieve constriction of your throat.

Avoid alcohol and certain medications such as tranquilizers and sleeping pills.

Sleep on your side or abdomen rather than on your back.

Set an appointment with your doctor and write down any symptoms you’re experiencing and feel free to ask a family member or friend to accompany you if you have a hard time going alone.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious disorder that can not only annoy but harm many people you care about if left untreated. Contact your physician for more details on how you can manage your own sleep apnea.

Email suggestions for future House Calls columns to Beth Liles at Sutter Coast Hospital, This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it