What’s Sleep Apnea & How Is It Connected To Asthma?

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Sleep Apnea, also known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), is perhaps the most common sleep disorder on the planet. Yet a lot of people haven’t heard of it or know little about it. Let’s change that shall we?

Sleep Apnea occurs when an individual’s breathing is interrupted whilst asleep. 

It’s caused by the relaxation and narrowing of the walls of the throat, which in turn interrupt typical breathing patterns, causing sufferers to wake up intermittently throughout the night. 

Untreated, these symptoms can continue night after night, resulting in a severe impact on an individual’s quality of life.

Types of breathing interruption

  • Apnea

A condition where the throat’s muscles and soft tissues relax and collapse enough to result in a complete blockage of the airways. 

If the airways are blocked for at least ten seconds the blockage is called an apnea. Worse still, this apnea is known to occur more than five times per hour.

Individuals that suffer with an apnea will have multiple wakening episodes overnight, resulting in them feeling exceptionally tired and groggy the following day.

  • Hypopnea

The UK’s NHS also confirmed there is a second type of breathing interruption that is characteristic of OSA. 

Unlike apnea, hypopnea relates to a partial blockage of the airway, resulting in less than half of the away being open for more than ten seconds. 

Apparently the most common causes of hypopnea are genetics and being overweight, reducing airflow and oxygen intake to the lungs in the process.

Did you know?

Those who suffer from OSA will snore loudly and excessively, stop breathing in their sleep and have a string of episodes of coughing, wheezing, gagging and choking that can be exceptionally uncomfortable. In many cases, OSA sufferers are wholly unaware they are waking up many times in the night because of breathing problems.

Asthmatics are at increased risk of developing OSA

Studies have suggested that individuals with asthma are at increased risk of developing OSA. Considerable research was carried out in Wisconsin over a 25-year period, examining the occurrence of OSA in adult participants. 

This study confirmed that asthma was associated with an increased possibility of OSA. Furthermore, OSA can worsen asthmatic symptoms:

  • Acid reflux
    OSA is known to lead to or worsen acid reflux within the airways. As OSA limits the ability of the sphincter muscles in the esophagus to retain acid in the stomach, it can increase the likelihood of developing chronic gastroesophageal reflux. Asthmatics are twice as likely as those without asthma to develop this condition anyway, but the onset of OSA can accelerate these symptoms.
  • Inflammatory chemicals
    OSA is also proven to increase the number of inflammatory chemicals existent within the bloodstream. This has the potential to heighten inflammation within the lungs caused by asthma. These chemicals can also encourage weight gain and subsequent obesity – a major factor in the development of asthma.
  • Reduced oxygen levels
    With reduced airflow throughout the night due to OSA, oxygen levels in the bloodstream will fall, placing undue strain on the heart.
  • Narrowing of small airways
    Furthermore, the narrowing of the small airways as a result of OSA can also irritate and contract the smooth muscle surrounding the airways. This can also heighten asthma symptoms, including shortness of breath.

Treatments for Sleep Apnoea

Those who are continually suffering from OSA can receive treatment to alleviate lack of sleep.

 Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the most common therapy for OSA sufferers. The treatment requires patients to wear a mask when they sleep. This mask provides continuous pressurised air into the mouth that helps to keep airways open all night. 

It is often a very effective form of treatment and is certainly preferable to undergoing surgical therapy. CPAP is also known to reduce acid reflux and inflammatory chemical levels which can subsequently ease asthma symptoms.

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UP3) is the surgical treatment offered to OSA sufferers. The surgery involves the removal of a patient’s tonsils, as well as part of the soft palate and uvula. This procedure is only recommended to those who are not overweight or obese.

Nocturnal asthma can aggravate OSA too

Sometimes, just by making the smallest changes to your lifestyle, you can mitigate the symptoms of OSA and improve your sleeping habits. There are six simple tips you should consider to keep your Sleep Apnoea symptoms at bay for longer:

  1. Avoid consuming stimulants such as coffee, tea and sugary drinks at least four-to-six hours prior to sleeping
  2. Try not to consume large meals late in the evenings
  3. Minimise your alcohol intake as alcohol can heighten OSA symptoms
  4. If you are a smoker, cut down on your smoking to minimise airway inflammation
  5. Find a comfortable bed to sleep on to help you drift off
  6. Incorporate daily exercise into your lifestyle to reduce abdominal fat

How to manage Sleep Apnoea

Did you know? There is a form of asthma called nocturnal asthma. This is when episodes of asthma develop in the evening and overnight, including coughing, wheezing and breathlessness that disturbs sleep. Three-quarters of nocturnal asthmatics struggle to get to sleep at least once a week, with two-fifths (40%) admitting to suffering with sleep every night.

The presence of nocturnal asthma often suggests the presence of more severe disease within the lungs and airways, representing a greater risk of mortality. Nocturnal asthma should not be mistaken for OSA. Nevertheless, many clinicians believe that the similarities in both symptoms are so similar that nocturnal asthma should be officially classed as a sleep-breathing disorder like OSA, given its influence on Sleep Apnea also.

Researchers believe a circadian rhythm dysfunction could be the cause of nocturnal asthma symptoms that affect sleeping patterns. However, the most common causes are increased exposure to allergens and pollutants in the air; untreated sinus conditions and blockages; acid reflux; meanwhile medications that treat blood pressure and migraines are known to trigger asthma symptoms late at night.

Feel like you need a review of your asthma symptoms?

If you are asthmatic and you believe you are developing a sleep-breathing disorder, it’s a good time to review your condition with a professional. By arranging an appointment with your trusted GP or a dedicated asthma nurse, they can help you to put your finger on what is triggering your nocturnal asthma or OSA symptoms and devise an asthma action plan to keep them at bay.

Another effective method of monitoring your asthma condition is to consider purchasing a smart inhaler. The Safey Health Smart Inhaler is a state-of-the-art piece of smart hardware and software designed to make asthma care management more efficient in the long-term.

The Health Smart Inhaler measures the quality of dosages you take, provides remote monitoring and minimizes the number of visits you’ll need to make to your GP or asthma specialist at hospital. 

If the Safey Smart Inhaler sounds like something you’d be interested in to better control your symptoms, discover our website by clicking the link above. Alternatively, if you have any urgent questions, feel free to get in touch today to find out more.