Health

Sleep apnea can have a big impact on your quality of life

Studies show that 15% of Singapore's population suffers from the sleep disorder, which affects breathing

Often wake up with a headache or find yourself excessively sleepy in the day?

You just might be suffering from sleep apnea, a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts.

Studies have shown that 15 per cent of Singapore's population is afflicted with this condition. Said Dr Samintharaj Kumar, chief executive of Nuffield Dental Group and Nuffield Aesthetics: "It might not seem like a big number, but it is surprisingly large. If left untreated, sleep apnea can become a health risk."

THE SYMPTOMS

There are three types of sleep apnea: Obstructive sleep apnea (where the airway at the back of the throat becomes physically blocked, and the blockage causes temporary lapses in breath); central sleep apnea (the underlying cause lies with the brain's system for controlling muscles involved in respiration, leading to decreased intake of breaths and shallower breathing); and mixed sleep apnea (when a person suffers from both obstructive and central sleep apnea).

Regardless of the type, the symptoms are largely the same.

Apart from those listed above, tell-tale signs also include irritability, disrupted breathing, limited attention span and difficulty in thinking clearly.

Those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea may also snore or wake up with a sore throat or dry mouth.

Dr Kumar said: "These multiple sleep interruptions from sleep apnea prevents one from sleeping well, leaving them feeling lethargic.

"And it is not just mood swings or fatigue; sleep apnea can contribute to cardiovascular problems such as heart disease, diabetes and other long-term health risks."

TREATMENT OPTIONS

In a nutshell, it is a good idea to check if you suffer from sleep apnea and to seek treatment if you do.

According to Dr Kumar, the most effective treatment for mild to severe sleep apnea is continuous positive airflow pressure therapy, where a machine delivers a steady stream of air as you sleep, using a hose and airtight mask or nosepiece.

He also recommends regular exercise (it decreases sleep apnea breathing episodes); weight loss if overweight (it can reduce the number of irregular breathing episodes, lower blood pressure and decrease daytime sleepiness); and sleeping on the side (lying on the back is the worst position for sleep apnea as it causes the jaw, tongue and other soft tissues to drop back towards the throat, narrowing the airway).

Smokers should also consider quitting as smoking increases inflammation and fluid retention in the throat and upper airway.

In addition, you do not necessarily have to see a doctor to check if you have sleep apnea. A dentist can also make a diagnosis as the condition results in worn teeth and gum recession.

A dental professional can also administer treatment.

Dr Kumar said: "The use of a dental device that prevents the tongue from blocking the throat, hence allowing air to flow through the airways unobstructed, would be prescribed."

A mandibular advancement device, meant to increase the size of the upper airway, might also be used.

In more severe cases, the patient may be asked to consider undergoing uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, a surgery that entails tissue rearrangement at the uvula, palate and throat walls.

Think it all sounds very uncomfortable and you are worried about pain? Don't be.

Dr Kumar said: "Most patients who have undergone dental solutions for sleep apnea have said they do not experience pain during the surgical procedure at all.

"They may experience a sore throat or discomfort after the surgery, but the ailments can be countered with painkillers. For the other alternative treatments listed, most patients have indicated little to no pain at all."

This article was first published in Her World Online (www.HerWorld.com)

WELLNESS & BEAUTY