What is Sleep Apnea?
West Chester, OH
Apnea is a Greek word that means “without breath.” Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which a person stops breathing, sometimes hundreds of times, during a night’s sleep. This can interfere with proper sleep, cause problems with heart rhythm, and reduce the oxygen supply to vital organs. Our team at Nelson R. Diers Orthodontics is very familiar with this condition, and can offer you expert advice and treatment.
Sleep apnea occurs in two main variations, obstructive and central, with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) being the most common. In this case, the upper airway is partially or completely blocked, due to the collapse of the soft tissue in the rear of the throat. The chest muscles and diaphragm must work harder to increase pressure and open the air passage. It is common for breathing to resume with a gasp or jerk.
The less common central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs when the brain fails to send a signal to the abdominal muscles, which are responsible for breathing. This condition is a problem with the central nervous system, and must be treated by a neurologist. It is also possible to have mixed sleep apnea, which is a combination of these two causes.
Who Gets OSA?
Reports vary greatly, but some estimates show around 22 million people in America suffer from OSA. It can affect all age groups, including babies and small children. The condition is also more likely to occur in those over age 40. There are some physical traits that are shared by many patients, including a small jawbone with an overbite, nasal obstructions, an upper airway with a reduced diameter, a large neck, and excessive weight. Enlarged tonsils can also be a factor.
A diagnosis of OSA is accomplished with an overnight sleep study. In this study, if the patient has more than five episodes of breathing stoppage per hour, they are considered to have OSA.
In its early stages, OSA is not normally recognized by the patient. It is usually their bed partner that first notices signs of trouble. These signs can include snoring, restless sleep, gasping or choking sounds, or night sweats. During waking hours, a patient’s partner might notice fatigue or sluggish behavior, forgetfulness, or irritability. The patient might realize they have symptoms such as a dry mouth or sore throat upon waking, headaches, or sexual dysfunction.
Detecting this condition in children is more difficult, and requires careful observation. Signs may include learning and behavioral problems, lethargic or sleepy appearance in the classroom, odd sleeping positions, mouth breathing, difficulty swallowing, and bedwetting. OSA in children is sometimes misinterpreted as laziness or lack of interest in academic performance.
If left untreated, OSA can result in impairment of various functions. Since OSA causes oxygen depletion during sleep, short term daytime effects include loss of cognitive abilities, mood swings, irritability, and a decrease in attentiveness. This last example can have serious consequences when it comes to such activities as driving a car or operating machinery. Oxygen depletion can eventually lead to permanent brain damage.
OSA can be treated with an oral appliance, and the experts at Nelson R. Diers Orthodontics can offer further information. Call us at (513) 829-4400 to learn more or check out our Sleep Apnea FAQs.