Sleep apnoea is significantly more common than many people realise, partly because many sufferers are not even aware of their condition, and partly because it is not as widely publicised as some other conditions. The majority of sufferers are middle aged, and men are more likely than women to get the disorder. Some factors which contribute to the increased likelihood of developing the disorder include being overweight, being a smoker, drinking alcohol close to bedtime and taking certain medications such as sleeping tablets.
Diagnosing sleep apnoea is a complex process, made further complicated by the fact that sufferers have no recollection of their interrupted sleep, meaning that they are less likely to seek medical help. The range of symptoms associated with sleep apnoea is broad, and includes: tiredness, headaches, depression, anxiety, irritability and reduced ability to concentrate. Aside from the potential dangers of being tired, particularly at the wheel, the disorder can have longer term consequences, notably heart disease and diabetes. For these reasons, therefore, its treatment is incredibly important.
When treating the disorder, doctors will normally first seek to establish the severity with which the patient is suffering with sleep apnoea. This is normally calculated by taking into account how many times breathing is interrupted per hour during sleep. In milder cases of sleep apnoea, simple lifestyle changes such as losing weight, avoiding alcohol and sleeping tablets, and sleeping on the side rather than the back, may be sufficient to improve the condition and therefore the general wellbeing and longer term health of the patient.
For more severe cases, doctors may be required to prescribe a form of sleep therapy known as CPAP, or more formally, continuous positive airway pressure. This is simply the application of a pressurised air flow down the wind pipe to ensure that it remains open and that it cannot collapse. This allows the patient to continue breathing normally though the night. This form of sleep therapy is widely considered to be the gold standard in treatment for this condition and is widely used around the world.
Of course, CPAP sleep therapy has its drawbacks and it is notoriously difficult to get used to. Many patients complain that it is uncomfortable at first. This is partly because it requires a mask to be worn over the mouth and face and this may cause skin irritation at first. Similarly the flow of oxygen may dry out the throat causing nose bleeds and sore throats.
The benefits though far outweigh the drawbacks, with many patients noticing a significant improvement within days and weeks of beginning sleep therapy in this form.
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