Snoring is a habit that often makes you the butt of people’s jokes, but it can be a symptom of an actual, and often serious, medical condition – sleep apnea. Affecting as many as 4% of the U.S. population at any one time, not only can sleep apnea deprive you and your loved ones of a decent night’s sleep, but it can also put your overall health and wellbeing at risk.
Prompt diagnosis and treatment are recommended to reduce your symptoms and prevent any long-term effects.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common condition that is characterized by the interruption of regular breathing during sleep. There are several types of sleep apnea, including one in which the breathing is interrupted due to problems with the communication pathway between your brain and muscles that tell you to breathe. However, the most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, also known as OSA.
Obstructive sleep apnea
Patients who have OSA have their breathing compromised by an obstruction within their throat, which is usually caused by either their tongue or soft tissues in their neck and throat collapsing while they relax, blocking their airway. When this happens, the flow of oxygen to the lungs and the brain becomes limited, and the brain then sends a panic signal to the lungs to get them to start breathing again. This jolts them into creating a bigger breath than usual, which can push past the obstruction and help the patient to breathe again.
To a person sleeping next to someone with sleep apnea, it will sound very much like the patient holds their breath for a few moments, followed by a gasp, snort or loud breath.
The number of episodes of sleep apnea a patient might experience will depend on the severity of their condition, but it is not unusual for a patient with severe sleep apnea to have more than 30 episodes a night.
The causes of obstructive sleep apnea
The number of patients experiencing OSA has increased year on year, and this is largely due to what is considered to be the primary cause of the condition – obesity.
Research has shown that people who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop OSA, usually as a result of having excess fat and skin around their neck and throat.
Smoking is another huge risk factor for developing OSA. Not only is it bad for your overall health, but nicotine has been shown to cause inflammation and irritation of the airway, as well as fluid retention. Each of these can contribute towards the narrowing of our airways.
Genetics may also play a part in your risk of developing OSA, with families with a history of the condition being more likely to pass it down to younger generations.
Other common contributors are:
Alcohol, which relaxes the muscles and causes them to sag.
Increased age, which again is linked to skin and muscle sagging.
Enlarged tonsils or adenoids, which can obstruct the airway.
Treating sleep apnea
There are various ways in which improvements to the symptoms of sleep apnea can be made. These include:
Losing weight, cutting back on regular alcohol consumption and stopping smoking will all have a significantly positive impact on OSA. You will also feel fitter and see an improvement in your overall health and wellbeing.
Oral appliance therapy
We may recommend that you try oral appliance therapy to treat your OSA. This involves wearing a device inside your mouth that changes the position of your tongue and/or jaw, to create more space in the back of your throat for the air to flow through freely.
Wearing an oral appliance for sleep apnea can be uncomfortable at first, but more patients find that they quickly get used to the feeling and that it is highly successful for treating mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea.
Positive airway pressure
Positive airway pressure is a popular alternative to surgical solutions for patients with moderate to severe sleep apnea. Patients using PAP treatment are required to wear a mask over their mouth and nose while they sleep. This mask is attached to a machine which supplies a positive supply of air with a force that is strong enough to push past the obstruction in their throat. There are multiple variations of PAP therapy, but the most common are CPAP which delivers continuous positive air pressure while the patient sleeps. Although wearing the mask can take require some adjustment, PAP machines are generally considered very successful for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea.
We are pleased to be able to offer sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment using our i-CAT scanning technology, which allows us to comprehensively scan your oral cavity and throat to visualize your airway. This enables us to identify any restrictions in your airflow, such as those seen in patients with OSA.
Dr. Thomas Young and the team at EQ Dental have the knowledge and expertise to be able to offer exemplary quality sleep apnea services to patients in Keller, TX and the surrounding areas. If you are worried that you or a loved one is suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, or if you would like to find out more about how we can help you, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our knowledgeable and friendly team.