What is Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is when breathing stops or is significantly decreased one or more times during sleep.
A more technical description is when the airflow is decreased by at least 80% for more than 10 seconds. These interruptions in airflow can happen 30 or more times an hour. What happens is that:
- You fall asleep. Your body to relaxes and loses muscle tone.
- The muscle relaxation causes a significant, if not complete, collapse of your airway interrupting your normal breathing pattern – inhalation of oxygen and exhalation of carbon dioxide.
- Hypoxia occurs. Hypoxia is a lack of oxygen and a build up of carbon dioxide.
- The brain alerts the body to breathe which leads to arousal
- When you wake up slightly, your muscle activity increases. The airway reopens and normal breathing occurs.
- You then fall back asleep and the above cycle repeats itself. This is the reason that SOA sufferers are always tired.
We estimate that 17-20% of adults suffer from some degree of OSA but less than 10% have been diagnosed. This makes it more prevalent than diabetes or asthma. An even greater percentage, up to 65% depending on the study you look at, experience heavy snoring.
The changes of OSA increases if you are overweight but anyone can be affected, even young adults.
5 Major signs to look for if you suspect you have Obstructive Sleep Apnea:
- Loud snoring
- Waking up with the sensation or choking or gasping
- Waking up with a dry sore throat
- Constantly feeling tired and/or headaches in the morning
- Decreased ability to concentrate and irritability
Why do I need a sleep study?
By Virginia law, a dentist is not allowed to make you an oral appliance before a sleep study has been performed. This is to ensure we know the severity of your sleep apnea before we start treatment.
Is Sleep apnea dangerous?
Sleep apnea is increasingly being recognized as a serious medical problem. Untreated, it can lead to high blood pressure, which we know increases the risk of stroke and other heart related problems. The ongoing tiredness and fatigue decreases your performance at work and/or school and you can endanger others while driving or operating heavy machinery.
There are a number of different things you can do to treat OSA:
- Maintain a healthy weight – excess weight is a leading cause of OSA
- Limit any use of systemic depressants: things like alcohol, sedatives and tranquilizers can all relax your throat muscles and worsen your OSA.
- Quit smoking: smokers are 3 times more likely to have OSA than those who have never smoked.
- Surgery: if the cause of your OSA is more anatomical like large tonsils, thick throat walls or a narrow airway your doctor might recommend surgery to remove excess tissue.
- CPAP, continuous positive airway pressure: the most common treatment of severe OSA and the gold standard of treatment. The machine covers your nose and mouth and uses air pressure to keep your airway open during sleep.
- MADs, Mandibular advancement devices: this can be a great alternative to the more cumbersome CPAP machines for people with mild to moderate OSA. However, people with severe sleep apnea that can’t tolerate a CPAP can still benefit. We also sometimes have patients with such severe OSA that they need both a CPAP and a MAD. The MAD functions more like a night guard helping to adjust the jaw and structures in the mouth forward to keep the airway open. This is where we can help you. If you think you might suffer from OSA, don’t delay in speaking to us about it. We can help point you in the right direction and get you the help you need!