What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
by Dr. Scott Bolding | Jul. 6, 2021
Table of Contents
01 What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
02. What are Some of the Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
03. What Are Some of the Causes of Sleep Apnea?
04. How Do We Diagnose Sleep Apnea?
05. What Treatments Are Available for Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where your breathing is interrupted while you sleep. Interrupted breathing happens because of a narrowed or blocked airway. When you sleep the muscles in your throat relax. Relaxed muscles are a normal part of sleep. Usually, your throat remains open enough to let air pass through. But for some people, the muscles relax too much and the airway is blocked. When the airway collapses your body wakes up momentarily so you can open it up again. Usually, people will wake up with a gasp. These episodes are brief and most people don’t even notice that they happen.
Millions of Americans have obstructive sleep apnea. And many of them may not even know they have it. They just know how they feel. They’re tired all the time. When they wake up in the morning they feel just as tired as when they went to bed. Their spouse has mentioned how much they snore.
Sleep apnea can have a major impact on your life. It can cause a number of other health and mental issues. It is important to understand what sleep apnea is, what causes it, what the symptoms are, and what treatment options are available. If you think you may have sleep apnea, you should talk to your doctor right away.
Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
You may not notice you have sleep apnea right away. Most of the time you won’t notice when you wake up during the night to open your airway. But you will notice some of the other side effects of sleep apnea, including fatigue, snoring, and morning headaches.
Other symptoms include:
- Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Mood changes
- High blood pressure
Many of the symptoms associated with obstructive sleep apnea are shared with other sleep disorders. It’s important to talk to your doctor so you can get an accurate diagnosis.
Causes and Risk Factors
The root cause of obstructive sleep apnea varies from person to person. There are several risk factors that can contribute to sleep apnea.
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It’s time to get the sleep you deserve. You don’t have to keep on living with the constant daytime sleepiness and other effects of sleep apnea. Schedule a consultation with our sleep apnea specialists today and start getting your life back.
Obesity & Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obesity is one of the most common risk factors associated with sleep apnea. In fact, about 60-90% of adults with obstructive sleep apnea also have obesity (ObesityMedicine.org). Excess weight creates fat deposits on the throat that can block the airway during sleep. Obesity also reduces lung capacity which makes it easier for the upper airway to collapse, leading to sleep apnea (SleepFoundation.org).
TMJ Disorders & Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea can also be caused by issues with your jaw. Many people with TMJ disorders also have sleep apnea. If your jaw joint (otherwise known as the TMJ) is misaligned it can cause problems with the position of your tongue, which can block your airway. If there is damage to the jaw joint, the lower jaw may slide back during sleep as well. And lack of sleep can lead to stress, obstructive sleep apnea can also cause TMJ disorders.
A thorough diagnosis is crucial for treating sleep apnea effectively. We want to make sure we get to the root cause of your sleep apnea. That’s why we work with the rest of your medical team to help you find the solution that works for you. We will work with your primary care physician, ENT, and other specialists to diagnose and treat your sleep apnea.
When you work with PRECiDENT to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea, we will start by learning more about your medical history. We will want to know about other medical conditions, including high blood pressure, that could be causing problems with your airway. It’ll also be helpful to know about any other family members that have sleep disorders as well.
We will also need to do a physical exam to help us understand more about what’s going on in your airway. Our specialists will examine the back of your throat, mouth, and nose, and check your blood pressure.
In some cases, a sleep test will be necessary. The sleep study can be performed either in a sleep lab or at home. In the sleep lab, you will be hooked up to equipment that will monitor your lungs, brain activity, and other things while you sleep. These tests can help determine whether you have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder.
Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
We offer treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea based on the cause and severity of the disorder. The goal is to help you find solutions that help you get a better night’s sleep. Most people find relief from mild therapies, while surgery provides the only lasting solution for others.
The CPAP Machine
The most well-known treatment for sleep apnea is the CPAP machine. This machine uses a mask that goes on your face while you sleep to help keep your airway open. The goal is to reduce the number of respiratory events you have while you sleep. The CPAP works by blowing air from an air compressor into your throat through a hose. Throughout the night the air pressure slowly increases, which keeps the airway open. A mask is worn over your nose, creating a seal to make sure the air pressure is not affected.
CPAP machines are usually effective in helping patients breathe better at night. However, they don’t always work for everyone. Many patients have a hard time adjusting to the mask over their nose. You may also experience some mild side effects including:
- Sore or dry mouth
- Irritation or sores over the bridge of the nose
- Nasal congestion or nosebleeds
A lot of the side effects and discomfort caused by CPAP machines can be addressed by making adjustments to the machine or mask. There are several different kinds of CPAP machines and so you should talk with a sleep apnea specialist to decide what is the right option for you.
For Mild Cases
Even though the CPAP is the most common treatment for mild to moderate sleep apnea, not everyone can tolerate the mask. If you struggle to use your CPAP every night, there are other options. Sleep appliances, or mouthguards, are a great alternative to the CPAP machine. There are two types of sleep appliances. The mandibular advancement device (MAD) forces the jaw forward, increasing the size of the upper airway. The tongue-retaining device keeps the tongue in place so your airway stays open.
Mouthguards are a great option for anyone who has mild sleep apnea. Many patients prefer them over the CPAP machine, especially if they travel a lot. However, it’s important to make sure you get the right mouthguard. You may think you can go buy a mouthguard from a sporting goods store, but it’s not the same thing. Sleep appliances are specially built to keep the airway open in a way that other mouthguards are not. If you want the mouthguard to work you need to make sure the appliance is prescribed by your dentist or sleep specialist.
Surgery for Sleep Apnea
Even though the CPAP machine and oral appliances are the most common treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea they’re not always the right answer for everyone. Some people are satisfied with the results they see from using the CPAP or oral appliance prescribed by their doctor. However, both of these options are designed to help you manage sleep apnea instead of actually treating the underlying cause. While they can be effective for helping patients breathe better at night, both CPAP and oral appliances don’t always work long term. Part of this is because many patients find them uncomfortable and hard to use. In fact, some studies show that 60% of CPAP patients won’t use their machines long-term. Even patients who are able to use their CPAP or oral device for a long period of time will very rarely be able to sleep without it. And that’s because these options are only managing sleep apnea, not treating it.
For patients who are not seeing results from their oral appliance or just can’t adjust to the CPAP machine, surgery may be the best permanent solution. The goal of all of these surgeries is to open up the airway permanently so you can breathe easier at night.
Types of Surgery
There are several different surgeries that can help treat sleep apnea and it’s important for specialists to get a thorough diagnosis before recommending any of them. Just like with any other condition a thorough understanding of the root cause is the key to knowing which treatment option is right for you. Some surgeries will be handled by an ENT and others will be taken care of by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, like the specialists at PRECiDENT.
Sleep apnea surgeries handled by an ENT include:
- Tonsillectomy (usually for children)
- UPPP surgery (removes excess tissue from the throat which clears the airway)
- Palate implants
The primary surgery performed by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon is MMA (maxillomandibular advancement) surgery. During this procedure, the surgeon will move the jaw forward, which opens up the airway. MMA surgery is the most successful surgery for obstructive sleep apnea with over 90% of patients finding relief. Many of these patients even go on to sleep successfully without their CPAP machine. MMA surgery can be invasive and will likely alter the appearance of your face, so it is important to discuss all of your options with a specialist before making any decisions.
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To Get a Better Night’s Sleep?
Dealing with any sleep disorder is stressful. Not getting a good night’s sleep has an impact on your life. You’re tired all the time. Focusing at work gets harder and harder. Your relationship with your family is strained. If you are experiencing any of these side effects of obstructive sleep apnea, schedule a consultation with the specialists at PRECiDENT. We want to help you get a better night’s sleep so you can get back to living your life.