A first indication of the presence of sleep apnea is the combination of symptoms. Severe tiredness during the day, together with snoring, breathing pauses and overweight, make breathing stops very likely. Sleep should then be monitored for an accurate diagnosis.
This is best done in a sleep laboratory. There, not only breathing but all relevant vital signs are recorded during sleep. Movement during sleep and any restlessness are also recorded.
In this way, breathing stops and the resulting stress level for the body can be measured. Brain activity in the EEG or muscle tension can also be recorded here. If it is not possible to spend the night in an inpatient sleep laboratory, or if it is impossible to fall asleep at all, smaller devices are now available.
These collect a little less data, but they can also be used at home. In addition, an ENT physician should be consulted in order to rule out remediable causes in the nose and throat area. Medication should also be included as a further cause and, if necessary, changed.
About 2-3 % of the population is affected by sleep apnoea syndrome. The majority of those affected are aged between 45-65 years. Respiratory failure occurs more frequently in men.
This is probably also related to the distribution of fat in the form of abdominal fat, which makes breathing more difficult when lying on your back. People who regularly consume alcohol, nicotine or sleeping pills also have an increased risk. Sleep apnoea syndrome occurs more often, although not exclusively, in people who snore heavily.
The therapy of sleep apnea is closely related to the causes. For example, in mild forms it is often sufficient to make minor lifestyle changes. For example, reducing overweight or avoiding alcohol, nicotine and sleeping pills can already lead to improvements.
A weight reduction of just 10% can reduce the risk of nightly oxygen deficiency by 1/4. Good sleep hygiene, avoiding heavy meals immediately before going to bed, and sports can also have positive effects. Even when sleeping in a lateral position, the falling back of the tongue is usually well avoided.
For this purpose there are also simple aids, some of which can be produced by the patient himself. A sewn-in tennis ball on the back of the pyjamas, or so-called side sleeper pillows help to maintain the lateral position during the night. Bite splints or bandages that pull the lower jaw forward can also help to relieve the symptoms.
If, for example, enlarged tonsils or polyps are the cause of the problem, consideration can be given to removing them. The use of the drug theophylline can also be effective in mild forms of sleep apnoea syndrome. If all these measures do not help, it may be necessary to wear a certain mask at night.
In this case, air is pressed into the airways under slight pressure. This ensures that air can enter the lungs through the blocked airways. In addition, the pressure in the airways facilitates the absorption of oxygen. Although these “ventilators” help very well against the symptoms, there are patients who feel very disturbed by the mask.