Obstructive Sleep Apnea 101

Over 25 million Americans have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, and many more probably have it but just haven't been diagnosed yet. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) happens when the throat muscles become too relaxed during sleep and fail to keep the airway completely open. Sleep apnea can also result when the brain doesn't control respiration like it should when you are sleeping. This is called central sleep apnea, but obstructive sleep apnea is far more common. Here is what you need to know about this potentially debilitating disorder.

How Is OSA Diagnosed?

Patients who present with a history of unexplained fatigue that doesn't have an obvious medical reason behind and whose loved ones report they snore a lot is a good candidate for a visiting a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders. An overnight sleep study can be arranged in a facility designed to monitor you while you sleep. Dentists are often the first one to bring a potential OSA issue to a patient's attention. When a dentist uses nitrous oxide to provide a mild sedative effect for his patients, many patients will fall asleep in the chair. The reclining position is similar to when you are sleeping, and obviously, your dentist has a birds' eye view of your mouth and throat structure when he is working on your teeth. The dentist can see and hear if the throat muscles are too relaxed and your airway is being blocked.

What Are The Symptoms Of OSA?

Snoring and sudden gasping for air are the most common symptoms. There is a higher prevalence in men, people who are overweight, post-menopausal women, and those who have misaligned jaws or a smaller mouth and/or breathing tube. The constantly fluctuating air supply leads to frequent night-time waking, which will leave the OSA suffering from exhaustion. Being tired can affect every aspect of life, from poor work performance to inattentive driving to more serious health problems, like heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and even sudden death.

How Can OSA Be Treated?

One of the easiest ways to treat OSA is to have a dentist who specializes in sleep medicine fit you for an oral appliance. This therapy is used only at night, and it is basically a mouth guard that will help to keep your airway unobstructed. Another option is a CPAP machine. This involves wearing a mask with a tube attached to a machine that supply constant air pressure. Your last option is different surgical techniques that may resolve the problem. 

For more information, talk to a dentist.