Unlike simple snoring, obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially life- threatening condition that requires medical attention. The risks of undiagnosed OSA include heart attack, stroke, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart disease and decreased libido. In addition, OSA causes daytime drowsiness that can result in accidents, lost productivity and interpersonal relationship problems. The symptoms may be mild, moderate or severe.
Sleep apnea is fairly common. One in five adults has at least mild sleep apnea and one in 15 adults has at least moderate sleep apnea. OSA also affects 1% to 3% of children. During sleep, the upper airway can be obstructed by excess tissue, large tonsils and/or a large tongue. Also contributing to the problem may be the airway muscles, which relax and collapse during sleep, nasal passages, and the position of the jaw.
The cessation of breathing, or "apnea," brought about by these factors initiates impulses from the brain to awaken the person just enough to restart the breathing process. This cycle repeats itself many times during the night and may result in sleep deprivation and a number of health-related problems. Sleep apnea is generally defined as the presence of more than 30 apneas during a seven hour sleep. In severe cases, periods of not breathing may last for as long as 60 to 90 seconds and may recur up to 500 times a night.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Those who have OSA are often unaware of their condition and think they sleep well. The symptoms that usually cause these individuals to seek help are daytime drowsiness or complaints of snoring and breathing cessations observed by a bed partner. Other symptoms may include:
- Snoring with pauses in breathing (apnea)
- Excessive daytime drowsiness
- Gasping or choking during sleep
- Restless sleep
- Problem with mental function
- Poor judgment/can't focus
- Memory loss
- Quick to anger
- High blood pressure
- Nighttime chest pain
- Problem with excess weight
- Large neck (>17" around in men, >16" around in women)
- Airway crowding
- Morning headaches
- Reduced libido
- Frequent trips to the bathroom at night
Diagnosing Sleep Disorders
If you exhibit several OSA symptoms, it's important you talk to one of our dentists and possibly visit an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon for a complete examination and an accurate diagnosis.
At your first visit, your doctor will take a medical history and perform a head and neck examination looking for problems that might contribute to sleep-related breathing problems. An interview with your bed partner or other household members about your sleeping and waking behavior may be in order. If the doctor suspects a sleep disorder, you will be referred to a sleep clinic, which will monitor your nighttime sleep patterns through a special test called polysomnography.
Polysomnography will require you to sleep at the clinic overnight while a video camera monitors your sleep pattern and gathers data about the number and length of each breathing cessation or other problems that disturb your sleep. Often a "split night" study is done during which a C-PAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device is used. During polysomnography, every effort is made to limit disturbances to your sleep.