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100,000 Irish have sleep apnea - but thousands more undiagnosed

A conference has been told that 100,000 people suffering from sleep apnea in Ireland – but 90 per cent of those are undiagnosed.

THERE ARE OVER 100,000 people in Ireland who suffer from sleep apnea – but the true figure could be twice that, a conference in Galway was told today.

Delegates at the annual conference of the Irish Dental Association were told by an expert on the disorder that 90 per cent of those who suffer from sleep apnea are undiagnosed, but awareness of the disorder is growing.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea occurs when the airway collapses and airflow stops for 10 seconds. If this happens constantly, it prevents the person getting the deep sleep required to function normally.

Symptoms of apnea include:

  • Inappropriate fatigue
  • Choking episodes during sleep
  • Excessive napping
  • Bruxism or tooth grinding
  • Irritability, anxiety and poor mental functioning
  • Hypertension

Dr Michael McWeeney, Consultant Respiratory Physican in Galway Clinic and the Bon Secours Hospital,says the prevalence of the condition is rising in tandem with our increasing awareness.

He said that they believe the condition affects between 2.5 and 4 per cent of the population, “but because most people who suffer from it remain undiagnosed that figure may be a little on the conservative side”.

We are in an obesity epidemic and that increases the severity of apnea. Poor muscle tone and alcohol consumption also increase the risk substantially. What we really want to do is raise awareness of the condition not just among the general population but also among health providers such as doctors and dentists.

He said that 30 per cent of men snore, while the figure for women is around 10 per cent. Dr McWeeney also noted that snoring on its own is not the issue, “as not everyone who snores has apnea”.

However if a person who snores suffers from constant fatigue despite adequate sleep they should visit a doctor or specialist with knowledge of the condition to get a diagnosis.

Dr Dermot Canavan, who specialises in the treatment of orofacial pain, said that dentists can provide oral appliances that can be used in mild to moderate cases of sleep apnea where a patient finds CPAP ( a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine) unsuitable.

If a person is napping a lot or falling asleep regularly at the cinema they could well be suffering from this disorder. Naturally the consequences of them falling asleep while driving or operating machinery are very serious.

Treatment for the condition may include lifestyle adjustments such as losing weight or adjusting sleeping position, the use of a CPAP machine or a device similar to a sports mouth guard called a Mandibular Advancement Device (MAD) which can be made by a dentist.

“Sleep apnea is an extremely debilitating condition and the earlier it is identified the greater the likelihood of successful treatment,” Dr Canavan concluded.

Read: 27 easy ways to sleep better tonight>

Read: Lack of sleep “top risk of stroke”>

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