Everything You Need To Know About Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

It’s no secret that a good night’s sleep is essential for feeling your best, yet many of us are missing out on the quality of rest we need. Sleep deprivation can have profound consequences on our mental and physical health, and there are many reasons behind it. One of the most common sleep problems is obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, which affects over 50 million adults in the U.S. This chronic condition can cause a person to stop breathing hundreds of times a night for anywhere from a few seconds to more than a minute. This leads to repeated brief awakenings, making for a very broken night of sleep!

If you can’t remember the last time you slept through the night, obstructive sleep apnea could be the culprit. Fortunately, there are solutions! Dr. Gatgens is able to help patients get the restful sleep they need by successfully treating OSA. Let’s take a closer look at what obstructive sleep apnea is, what the symptoms are, and how Accent Smile Center can help you breathe easy again. 

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

OSA is classified as a Sleep Disordered Breathing condition. It occurs during sleep,  and is generally due to a narrowed airway. As a person sleeps, this airway becomes completely blocked and breathing stops momentarily. The brain detects the lack of oxygen, prompting the body to take a breath. Someone suffering from OSA may experience hundreds of these apnea episodes every night, but they may not remember any of them. 

What are the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea?

The symptoms of OSA are varied. Many are mild, while others can be quite serious. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Observed episodes of stopped breathing during sleep
  • Abrupt awakenings accompanied by gasping or choking
  • Difficulties with memory
  • Difficulty concentrating during the day
  • Unusual moodiness or irritability
  • Frequently waking up at night
  • Nighttime sweating
  • Morning headaches
  • Waking up with a sore throat or dry mouth

Everything You Need To Know About Obstructive Sleep Apnea

What causes obstructive sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax too much, causing your airway to narrow or closes as you breathe in. This impairs normal breathing temporarily. Your brain senses this impaired breathing, and will briefly rouse you from sleep so you can take a breath and reopen your airway. This may be accompanied by snorting, gasping, or choking that corrects itself quickly. This pattern is often repeated multiple times throughout the night.

Are there risk factors associated with obstructive sleep apnea?

While anyone can develop obstructive sleep apnea, there are certain factors that put you at an increased risk of it, including:

Excess weight—Obesity increases your risk for sleep apnea because fatty tissue in your breathing passage can reduce the space for air to pass through. This makes it more likely that your breathing passage will collapse while you sleep.

Gender—Men are 2-3 times more likely than premenopausal women to have obstructive sleep apnea. Interestingly, postmenopausal women have roughly the same risk for obstructive sleep apnea as men do.

Age—Obstructive sleep apnea becomes more common as we age, starting in young adulthood up until we hit our 60s and 70s. At this point, the risk of obstructive sleep apnea appears to level off.

Upper airway crowding—Anything that makes the pharynx smaller can result in more obstructive sleep apnea. This includes having a big tongue, small chin, big tonsils, or large glands in the pharynx. 

How is obstructive sleep apnea diagnosed?
There are a few different ways we can screen for obstructive sleep apnea in our office, including a 3D scan and an airway analysis. Dr. Gatgens can also perform a visual screening, during which he will observe your tongue’s positioning and size, as well as how much of the back of your throat is visible with the tongue extended. Since tooth grinding can be a symptom of OSA, he’ll also look for any noticeable wear to your teeth. 

Dr. Gatgens may ask you to complete an Epworth Sleepiness Scale test, or he may recommend that you complete a home sleep apnea test or do an overnight sleep study at a dedicated sleep center. All of these tests will be interpreted by a sleep physician working with Dr. Gatgens to make a diagnosis. 

Everything You Need To Know About Obstructive Sleep Apnea

How is obstructive sleep apnea treated?

Even though many people suffering from OSA don’t notice episodes as they’re happening, it’s important to your health to treat it whenever possible. If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, morning headaches, and memory loss, among other symptoms. This can increase your risk for road and workplace accidents, and could even lead to serious health problems, including: 

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic acid reflux

Once you have an official diagnosis for obstructive sleep apnea, Dr. Gatgens will discuss treatment options with you. For most mild to moderate cases, oral appliance therapy will be an effective treatment option. This involves wearing an oral appliance while sleeping. The appliance fits like a mouthguard or retainer, and will push the jaw slightly forward to help maintain an open, unobstructed airway.  

For more severe cases of OSA, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy may be the best option. CPAP therapy involves wearing a face mask that will provide a constant flow of pressurized air to keep your upper airway passages open. While CPAP is the most commonly used method of treating obstructive sleep apnea, some people find the mask uncomfortable or loud. Fortunately, newer machines tend to be somewhat smaller and less noisy than older machines. There are also a variety of masks designed for individual comfort.

Surgical treatment options are available, but these are usually considered only if no other therapies have been effective, or if you have dangerous, life-threatening sleep apnea.  

Get a restful night’s sleep with Accent Smile Center

If you’ve been suffering from the effects of obstructive sleep apnea, or suspect you have it, Dr. Gatgens and the rest of our expert team are here to help! Get in touch by calling 615-800-2747 or click here to schedule a consultation in our Dickson office. A good night’s sleep is waiting for you!