This week I would like to raise awareness of a very significant health issue that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It is a health condition that causes a reduced quality of life and affects both men and women. Research suggests it increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, diabetes and a host of other conditions. If you snore and are constantly tired during the day, this may apply to you. I’m talking about sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea occurs when the walls of the throat come together during sleep, blocking off the upper airway. Breathing stops for a period of time (generally between ten seconds and up to one minute) until the brain registers the lack of breathing and sends a small wake-up call. The sleeper rouses slightly, opens the upper airway, typically snorts and gasps, then drifts back to sleep almost immediately. In most cases, the person suffering from sleep apnoea doesn’t even realise they are waking up. This pattern can repeat itself hundreds of times every night, causing fragmented sleep. This leaves the person feeling unrefreshed in the morning, with excessive daytime sleepiness, poor daytime concentration and work performance, and fatigue. It's estimated that about five per cent of Australians suffer from this sleep disorder, with around one in four men over the age of 30 years affected.


Symptoms of sleep apnoea


people with significant sleep apnoea have an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents and high blood pressure and may have an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. In the over-30 age group. Some of the associated symptoms include:


  • daytime sleepiness, fatigue and tiredness
  • poor concentration
  • irritability and mood changes
  • impotence and reduced sex drive
  • need to get up to the toilet frequently at night.


Causes of sleep apnoea


Obesity is one of the most common causes of sleep apnoea. Other contributing factors include:


  • alcohol, especially in the evening – this relaxes the throat muscles and hampers the brain’s reaction to sleep disordered breathing
  • certain illnesses, such as reduced thyroid production or the presence of a very large goitre
  • large tonsils, especially in children
  • medications, such as sleeping tablets and sedatives
  • nasal congestion and obstruction
  • facial bone shape and the size of muscles, such as an undershot jaw.


Treatment for sleep apnoea


Treatment for sleep apnoea relies on changes to lifestyle, including losing weight and cutting down on alcohol. Any contributing medical condition, such as low production of thyroid hormone, also needs to be corrected. Any surgical conditions such as large tonsils should be corrected.


The most effective treatment available is a mask worn at night that prevents the throat from collapsing by transmitting increased air pressure to the collapsible segment of the throat. This is called ‘continuous positive airway pressure’(CPAP). The key to this treatment is finding a mask and machine that match the needs of a given individual with sleep apnoea. It is estimated that CPAP therapy will add 5 to 10 years to the lifespan of some people with sleep apnoea.


What to do next:


If you know you snore and stop breathing throughout the night (often it will be someone else telling you this is happening) then you need to speak with your doctor. If your doctor suspects you have sleep apnoea he or she can refer you for a sleep study, where you can be properly assessed. For most people, this sleep study can be done in your own home in the comfort of your own bed.


Through one of the pharmacies in our group we have partnered with Dr Jack Philpott (Perth’s leading sleep specialist) to make a sleep apnoea service available locally. If you would like to know more please reply to this email, or speak to one of our pharmacists and we can help get you assessed.


It is a significant condition with significant consequences. Certainly, if you have suspicions that you or one of your family members have sleep apnoea, it is worth giving this some thought.

Sleep apnoea

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