It is estimated that as many as 18 million U.S adults suffer from sleep apnea, which is one of the most common sleep disorders in the world. Although there are several types of sleep apnea, by far the most common is obstructive sleep apnea or OSA for short. Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by a temporary pause in the regular pattern of breathing whilst you sleep. Breathing then naturally restarts. A patient with OSA can have a single episode of interrupted breathing in a night, or more than a hundred. Exactly how long the pause lasts for can also vary, but in most instances, it will last as long as ten seconds.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles at the back of your throat fail to keep your airway open whilst you sleep. Instead, the soft tissues collapse into the throat, preventing airflow. Once you have stopped breathing, your brain will send a signal to the lungs to take an extra-large breath that is strong enough to push past the obstruction and restart the normal pattern of breathing until the next episode occurs. This breath can sound like a breath, or a snort or gasp.
It isn’t always easy to identify that you are suffering from sleep apnea, particularly if you sleep alone. In many instances, it isn’t until a patient shares their bed with someone that they realize that they have interrupted breathing whilst they sleep. However, some symptoms indicate that you are likely to be suffering from sleep apnea. These include the following:
- Snoring. Easily the most common symptom associated with sleep apnea, most people with OSA will snore significantly enough for it to be a problem with other people they sleep with or near.
Although it may not seem serious, sleep apnea can have serious consequences if you do not seek a diagnosis and treatment.
Fortunately, there are several different treatments for sleep apnea. In many instances, making a few changes to your lifestyle can significantly improve your condition. One of the primary risk factors for sleep apnea is being overweight or obese, which causes additional fat/tissue at the back of the throat which can collapse and block your airway whilst you sleep. Equally, drinking alcohol before bed (which is a relaxant) can increase your chances of experiencing episodes of OSA during the night. If your dentist believes that lifestyle changes will be valuable in treating your sleep apnea, this will be discussed with you.
Nevertheless, many patients still require additional treatment to alleviate their obstructive sleep apnea. Some of the options available include:
A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine delivers a constant stream of positive oxygen into a mask that you wear over your mouth or nose whilst you sleep. This will help prevent your airways from narrowing and improve the quality of your sleep. However, sleeping with a mask can take some getting used to.
Another popular treatment for sleep apnea, these special devices are used to alter the position of your jaw whilst you sleep so that your airway is held open enough for collapsing tissues not to be an issue. Our dental team will be able to discuss MAD’s with you.
If you have any further questions about the symptoms of sleep apnea, or to schedule a consultation with our professional and dedicated dental team, please contact our offices