A Detailed Look at Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a common medical condition associated with a range of serious health complications. It’s one of the most prevalent sleep disorders worldwide, and about 30 million people in the U.S. suffer from sleep apnea, according to the American Medical Association (AMA).
Sleep apnea takes different forms, including central sleep apnea (CSA) and mixed sleep apnea (MSA), also known as complex sleep apnea syndrome. The most prevalent type of sleep apnea, though, is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). And that’s what we’ll be looking at in detail in this post, with the help of Oral Surgeons PC in Des Moines.
What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
“Apnea” is Greek for breathless, and sleep apnea refers to disturbed sleep due to repeated pauses in breathing. With obstructive sleep apnea, air is prevented from reaching the lungs as the airway narrows, and the brain and the rest of your body is starved of oxygen.
This triggers a survival reflex and you momentarily wake up spluttering and gasping for air as you resume breathing. While this instinctive response keeps you breathing, it also interrupts your sleep cycle. And the pattern can be repeated hundreds of times in a single night.
What Causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Researchers estimate 26 percent of Americans aged from 30 to 70 have obstructive sleep apnea. It’s most common among people over 55 and twice as prevalent in men.
OSA can be caused by:
- Small airway.
- Enlarged tonsils.
- Large tongue.
- Small lower jaw.
Risk Factors for OSA
Sleep apnea is more likely to happen if:
- You’re overweight.
- You smoke.
- You sleep on your back.
- You drink alcohol.
- You take sedatives.
- You take certain other medications.
- Your nasal passages are blocked.
Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
You may have OSA without realizing it, until your sleep partner tells you that you’re:
- Snoring loudly.
- Tossing and turning.
- Gasping for breath.
Symptoms you may experience yourself in the daytime include:
- Waking up with a headache.
- Persistent tiredness.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Feeling miserable or being short tempered.
Many people who have OSA also suffer from nocturnal bruxism – teeth grinding while asleep.
Complications from Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Sleep plays an important role in helping keep your body healthy and ensuring optimal brain function. Lack of quality sleep because of OSA can cause both physical and emotional complications. Sleep deficiency impairs your ability to heal yourself as it becomes more difficult for the immune system to fight infections. It also hinders cognitive functionality and the ability to maintain emotional and mental resilience.
Physical Complications of OSA
Physical issues that can arise due to obstructive sleep apnea include increased risk of:
- High blood pressure.
- Heart disease.
- Kidney problems.
- Liver issues.
Psychological Complications of OSA
If you have obstructive sleep apnea, you’re at greater risk of developing mental health conditions such as:
- Panic attacks.
- Bipolar disorder.
OSA can also lead to erectile dysfunction, which can be caused by psychological or physical issues.
How is OSA Diagnosed?
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons in Des Moines offer consultations to test for obstructive sleep apnea. Diagnosis includes examining the anatomy of the lower jaw and x-raying the skull. A flexible fiber optic camera may be used to determine the level of airway blockage. A sleep study may be recommended to monitor an individual overnight in a sleep center lab, at a hospital, or at home if your condition appears less complex.
These tests measure:
- Brain waves.
- Heart rate.
- Blood oxygen levels.
How is Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treated?
Several treatments, both non-surgical and surgical, are available to treat OSA. Lifestyle changes may also be beneficial.
Non-Surgical OSA Treatments
Oral sleep appliances are often used to treat obstructive sleep apnea. These include mandibular advancement devices (MADs) that keep the airway open by positioning the lower jaw forward while you sleep. They also prevent the tongue from folding back and blocking your airway.
More severe cases of OSA may require wearing a breathing mask attached to a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. This provides a constant supply of compressed air to keep your airway open while you’re asleep.
Surgical OSA Treatments
Surgical options to treat OSA include:
- Removal of adenoids and tonsils.
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) surgery to open the upper airways by removing excessive tissue in the throat and back of the mouth.
- Laser-assisted uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (LAUPP).
- Orthognathic surgery to reposition bones of the upper and lower jaws.
- Radio frequency ablation (RFA) to shrink soft tissue of the roof of the mouth.
Lifestyle Changes to Ease OSA Symptoms
Lifestyle changes may relieve symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, but keep in mind they’re no substitute for professional treatment. If you drink, you should try to limit your alcohol consumption. If you smoke, OSA provides further motivation to kick the habit.
Other measures you can take yourself that may prove beneficial alongside professional health care for OSA include:
- Altering your sleep position. Changing your sleep position can alleviate OSA symptoms and help you get a better night’s rest. Sleeping on your side rather than your back may help maintain normal breathing and reduce snoring in adults. However, children with obstructive sleep apnea have been found to sleep better on their backs.
- Maintaining a healthy weight. Some people with OSA are advised to lose weight because obesity can increase the risk of nasal passages narrowing, resulting in air way obstruction. Studies have found that moderate weight loss in cases of obesity may avoid the need for OSA upper airway surgery.
- Exercising regularly. As well as helping weight control, regular physical activity may ease sleep apnea symptoms by increasing oxygen levels in the blood.
How Can I Get an OSA Consultation?
Obstructive sleep apnea can pose serious physical and mental health risks, and a diagnosis sooner rather than later enables the most effective OSA treatment. However, most people with this sleep disorder go undiagnosed.
So, if you have any symptoms that may indicate OSA it would be unwise to ignore them. Most major medical plans cover OSA diagnosis and treatment. Contact Oral Surgeons PC to schedule an OSA consultation.