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Sleep apnoea

Anal and rectal conditions

Obstructive sleep apnoea is the most common form of sleep apnoea.

If sleep apnoea events occur frequently, then not only will this lead to tiredness, but also contribute long term to the development of chronic conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure and that could lead to life threatening events such as heart attack and stroke.

Initially, the symptoms may not be apparent.

What is obstructive sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea is a condition where your breathing temporarily stops during sleep. This causes a lack of airflow and oxygen from the mouth and nose to the lungs.

Obstructive sleep apnoea refers to cessation of breathing due to the upper airways become physically blocked, as opposed to central apnoea which occurs when signalling to the breathing muscles from the brain stops.

What are the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea?

A commonly associated symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea is snoring. You may not realise that you snore, or that your breathing regularly stops when you sleep. Indeed, your partner may point them out to you, as their sleep is frequently interrupted by you too.

Other symptoms include:

  • Waking up frequently throughout the night
  • Making frequent gasping noises
  • A sensation of choking in your sleep

Disrupted sleep can lead to:

  • Headache
  • Tiredness and lethargy during the day
  • Irritability
  • An inability to concentrate
  • Trouble remembering things or making decisions
  • Poor performance at work or school

What causes obstructive sleep apnoea?

Obstructive sleep apnoea is caused by a narrowing or a blockage in the upper airway, or if part of the airway has lost muscle tone and has become floppy.

Factors that can cause these changes in the airway include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Getting older
  • Having an anatomical block in the airway such as nasal obstruction, large tonsils or adenoids, a large base of tongue or a large neck

Factors that can exacerbate obstructive sleep apnoea include:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking excessive alcohol in the hours before bed
  • Sleeping on your back
  • Nasal block and breathing through your mouth during sleep.

How is obstructive sleep apnoea diagnosed?

Speak to your GP about your symptoms if you think you have obstructive sleep apnoea, and ideally take your partner with you as they may give a more accurate description of your symptoms.

You may be referred to a sleep team, who may give you equipment to record some sleep parameters at home whilst you sleep, or will invite you to stay overnight in the clinic so that they can monitor you. These sleep study recordings will determine whether you have obstructive sleep apnoea, and how severe it is.

How is obstructive sleep apnoea treated?

Obstructive sleep apnoea can be successfully managed by using a CPAP machine during sleep. A CPAP machine comprises a mask over your mouth or nose through which air is pumped gently into your airways. It can take a while to get used to, but will significantly improve your sleep.

You can also help manage obstructive sleep apnoea by losing weight, avoiding alcohol before bed, quitting smoking if you smoke and avoiding laying on your back during sleep.

If you are intolerant of CPAP or even in addition to CPAP, you may be referred to an ENT surgeon to assess whether you have any anatomical conditions causing obstruction.

If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for our team of expert specialists are here to help.

This content has been checked and approved by

Private: Mr Jahangir Ahmed  ›

Mr Jahangir is an ENT and Endocrine Surgeon at King Edward VII’s Hospital.

Find your specialist in obstructive sleep apnoea at King Edward VII's Hospital

Dr David Simcock  ›
Special interests include:
Lung cancer (+ 9) more

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