How undiagnosed sleep apnoea could be putting your health at risk

It’s National Stop Snoring Week, the annual event that raises awareness for a myriad issues related to snoring.

More than just an annoying habit

Snoring is incredibly common, affecting around 80% of people in the UK[1]. Despite general acceptance of snoring as normal and nothing major to worry about, few people realise that in reality, it can be the first warning sign of a more serious underlying condition, such as obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).

A recent survey by SoClean has revealed widespread under-reporting of snoring among those most at-risk of OSA – men over the age of 40[2]. The survey results showed that while 79% of men believed they snored, 90% of women claimed their partners snored.1

Symptoms of OSA, such as loud snoring, laboured breathing or gasping, are commonly first spotted by a partner, friend or family member.2 This means many people who are at risk of OSA could be unaware of this symptom and dependent on their partners to alert them to their snoring.

What is OSA?

OSA is a condition where the throat muscles and tongue relax and collapse into the airway during sleep, blocking airflow[3]. This causes a person to abruptly and repeatedly wake for a few seconds at a time[4]. As well as causing fatigue, OSA is linked to various more serious health conditions.

The pauses in breath that occur in people with OSA result in reduced oxygen and increased carbon dioxide levels[5]. This in turn raises blood pressure and heart rate, putting people at risk of heart attack and stroke5. The condition can also increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression,5,[6],[7],[8] and has even been associated with higher risk of road accidents[9].

The impact of underdiagnosis and undertreatment

Underdiagnosis and treatment prevents people from accessing effective treatments for OSA, such as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP).

“Only about a quarter of people with OSA have been diagnosed and only about half of patients diagnosed have been able to access treatment,” explains Dr John O’Reilly, Consultant in Respiratory and Sleep Medicine.

In fact, current estimates suggest that as many as 85% of people with OSA are undiagnosed[10].

Protecting the health and sleep of people with OSA and their partners is not the only motivation for improving rates of diagnosis. Untreated OSA is estimated to cost the NHS £432 million a year[11].

How do you treat OSA?

CPAP is the most commonly prescribed effective treatment for OSA[12].  According to Dr John O’Reilly, “CPAP treatment has been shown to reduce mortality by 25%, as well as a 46% risk reduction in cardiovascular events and a 49% risk reduction in stroke. Road accident risk is also reduced by 83%.”

Keeping your CPAP clean

For CPAP therapy to be safe and effective, it’s advisable to regularly disinfect CPAP machines[13],[14],[15]. SoClean is the world’s first automated CPAP cleaner and sanitiser, killing 99.9% of bacteria for effortless and complete daily cleaning. Without regular disinfection, a CPAP mask, hose and reservoir can become a breeding ground for germs and bacteria[16], and has been linked to irritation and respiratory infections, including pneumonia[17].



[1] SoClean Snoring Survey 2019.  

[2] NHS. OSA: causes. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/obstructive-sleep-apnoea/ (accessed April 2019)

[3] NHS. OSA. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/obstructive-sleep-apnoea/ (accessed April 2019)

[4] WebMD. Sleep Apnea. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-apnea/sleep-apnea (accessed April 2019)

[5] American College of Cardiology.  Sleep Apnea and High Blood Pressure: A Dangerous Pair. Available from: https://www.cardiosmart.org/news-and-events/2015/05/sleep-apnea-and-high-blood-pressure-a-dangerous-pair (accessed April 2019)

[6] NHS. Complications of OSA. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/obstructive-sleep-apnoea/ (accessed April 2019)

[7] Davis AP, Billings ME, Longstreth WT, Khot SP. Early diagnosis and treatment of obstructive sleep apnea after stroke: Are we neglecting a modifiable stroke risk factor?. Neurol Clin Pract. 2013;3(3):192-201.

[8] American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Sleep Apnoea - Overview & Facts. Available from: http://sleepeducation.org/essentials-in-sleep/sleep-apnoea (accessed April 2019)

[9] Sleep Apnoea Trust. Sleep Apnoea – Frequently Asked Questions. http://www.sleep-apnoea-trust.org/sleep-apnoea-information-patients/sleep-apnoea-frequently-asked-questions/. (Accessed April 2019)

[10] British Lung Foundation. Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. Toolkit for commissioning and planning local NHS services in the UK 2015. https://www.blf.org.uk/sites/default/files/OSA_Toolkit_2015_BLF_0.pdf. (Accessed April 2019)

[11] Dr John O’Reilly quote on file

[12] American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Sleep Apnea - Overview & Facts. Available from: http://sleepeducation.org/essentials-in-sleep/sleep-apnea (Accessed April 2019)

[13] Todea et al. Assessment of respiratory exposure risk due to continuous positive airway pressure ventilation in obstructive sleep apnoea. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317905221_Assessment_of_Respiratory_Exposure_Risk_Due_to_Continuous_Positive_Airway_Pressure_Ventilation_in_Obstructive_Sleep_Apnea (Accessed April 2019)

[14] Advance Healthcare Network. CPAP Therapy Means Higher Pneumonia Risk. 2014. Available from: http://respiratory-care-sleep-medicine.advanceweb.com/News/Daily-News-Watch/CPAP-Therapy-Means-Higher-Pneumonia-Risk.aspx (Accessed April 2019)

[15] Schnirman et al. SAGE Open Medical Case Reports, 2017:Volume 5: 1–3. DOI: 10.1177/2050313X17744981

[16] Todea et al. Assessment of respiratory exposure risk due to continuous positive airway pressure ventilation in obstructive sleep apnoea. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317905221_Assessment_of_Respiratory_Exposure_Risk_Due_to_Continuous_Positive_Airway_Pressure_Ventilation_in_Obstructive_Sleep_Apnea (Accessed Jan 2018)

[17] Advance Healthcare Network. CPAP Therapy Means Higher Pneumonia Risk. Available from: http://respiratory-care-sleep-medicine.advanceweb.com/News/Daily-News-Watch/CPAP-Therapy-Means-Higher-Pneumonia-Risk.aspx (Accessed April 2019)