What is sleep apnoea? Know about its causes and treatment

Be sure to talk to your doctor if you experience loud snoring, especially snoring that's punctuated by periods of silence. With obstructive sleep apnoea, snoring usually is loudest when you sleep on your back, and it quiets when you turn on your side

What is sleep apnoea? Know about its causes and treatment
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What is the difference between sleep apnoea and snoring?

Snoring is a condition where something in the nose mouth throat or lungs blocks breathing while sleeping producing a soft or loud and unpleasant sound. It is a sign or first alarm of OSA (obstructive sleep apnoea)

Sleep Apnoea is where there are one or more pauses in breathing while you sleep. Pauses may last a few seconds to minutes, and as many as 30 times an hour. Breathing usually restarts with a loud snort or choking sound. Sleep apnoea may be obstructive, central or a combination called complex sleep apnoea.

When a person sleeps, the air passage’s muscle collapse due to which the airways in the windpipe get narrow. Because of this a person has a problem in breathing during sleep


Snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea: In the nose, a crooked nose bone or polyps are common causes, in the throat, throat muscle weakness, loose or tight jaw, fat in the neck, thick tongue, loose low roof of mouth, or tongue falling back while sleeping on the back. Relaxants like alcohol or some medicines also cause this.


Medical: All treatments for snoring and sleep apnoea try to fix the blockage or bypass it. These include special pillows; devices to keep the jaw aligned or the nose open, machines that continuously blow air into the nose and throat to keep them open (CPAP). These are all for mild to moderate cases.

What a patient can do to help themselves?

  • Lose weight
  • Exercise or brisk walking
  • Make lifestyle changes
  • Make use of mouthpieces and other breathing devices.
  • Identify other conditions causing obstruction like allergies and avoiding anything that causes allergies and blocked nose.
  • Quitting drinking, smoking and avoid taking sleeping pills or sedatives of any kind.
  • Avoid caffeine and heavy meals two hours before sleeping.
  • Do yoga to strengthen the muscles of the throat.
  • Maintain a regular sleep time.
  • Sleep on the side (or ask bed partner to roll you over if you snore), wedge a pillow stuffed with tennis back behind the back to prevent rolling onto the back, elevate the head of the bed by 4 to 6 inches.
  • If the cause of sleep apnoea is heart or nerve problems or any kind of brain damage or diabetes, get it treated by a specialist.
  • Get a sleep apnoea test called a polysomnography done.
  • Learning to play blowing instruments and singing can also strengthen throat muscles and reduce sleep apnoea

A home exercise for sleep apnoea:

  • Press the tongue down and brush top and sides of tongue with toothbrush.
  • Press the tongue up against the roof of mouth and hold it there for 3 minutes a day
  • Purse the lips as if going to kiss and move them up and to the right, then up and to the left 10 times. Repeat again 3 times.
  • Blow a balloon by breathing in through nose and out through mouth 5 times.
  • Gargle with water five minutes, twice a day
  • Lightly hold the tongue in teeth and swallow five times. Repeat this 5 to 10 times a day.

The author is a Mumbai-based Consultant ENT and Head and Neck surgeon, attached to Jaslok Hospital and Desa hospital