What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
You are likely hearing more about Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) as it is becoming more common and thanks to an increase in practitioners who are able to assist in the diagnosis. OSA can most easily be explained as the complete or partial obstruction of the upper airway during sleep, leading to decreased breathing or episodes of no breathing at all. This happens because muscle tissues around the throat relax during sleep, obstructing the airway.
Who is likely to get it?
Research has shown that OSA is more likely to affect men than women. More specifically, there is a higher risk for men who are overweight and middle-aged or older. Regardless of age and gender, OSA prevalence is likely going to keep rising because of the increase in overweight individuals in affluent societies. The prevalence of OSA also depends on different facial structures, tongue volume and total upper airway soft tissue volume. It is not surprising for children to develop OSA symptoms due to anatomical features. At times, children are already at high risk before they have the chance to grow out of the symptoms.
OSA is not something that leads to immediate death, but it does have many ugly side effects. From a health standpoint, OSA increases the chance of high blood pressure and sudden heart attacks or strokes. It also leads to a pretty serious condition called hypoxia, which is a loss of oxygen supply to body tissues. From a functioning standpoint, those affected by OSA often have daytime fatigue, increasing comprehension issues, and overall lower quality of life. Relationships with a bed partner also tend to be poorer due to loud snoring at night and/or gasping related to the closing and opening of the airways. Luckily, it's often our bed partners who notice the issue may be more than just snoring and alert us to seek an evaluation.
Another issue worth addressing is the increased chances of car accidents by people with OSA. Side effects include daytime sleepiness, trouble concentrating, and restrained alertness. In Ontario, for example, the law requires all physicians to report patients who may be unfit to drive a vehicle due to medical reasons. If an individual is reported to have a clinical condition that is not under control, the Ministry of Transportation has the right to suspend the driver's license.
Luckily, there are quite a few treatment options out there. For a more conservative option, patients can benefit from lifestyle changes such as weight loss and quitting smoking. Patients can consider using a CPAP machine that constantly keeps the airway open by blowing air through the passage. While CPAP is the golden treatment standard (especially for those with severe OSA), some people find it difficult to adapt to it. A more adaptable option is using a dental appliance. These simple oral appliances are designed to open the airway when worn.
Although there is no complete way to cure OSA, the good news is that specially trained sleep apnea dentists who work with sleep physicians can help treat symptoms, stop snoring, and minimize disrupted sleeping patterns. The solution for many patients is Oral Appliance Therapy which is a custom-made and adjustable dental appliance. Using this appliance helps minimize Sleep Apnea symptoms like snoring and allows you to finally have a good night's sleep. Many patients have used this appliance and found it relieves several hardships of OSA.
To put everything into perspective, OSA is not a disease that will kill you instantly. However, its side effects can certainly drive you closer to it. If you are presented with OSA symptoms, it is important not to put them aside. Given the many treatment options available, it is worthwhile to speak to a dental or medical professional who can assist in screening and making a diagnosis.