Is your loud, habitual snoring a sign of sleep apnea?
Snoring can certainly strain relationships. For many people who snore, though, the problem isn’t just an interpersonal one. It’s actually a life-threatening disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, roughly half of the 90 million Americans who snore may be affected by this serious sleep disorder.
What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
OSA is a chronic condition characterized by shallow breathing and pauses in breathing during sleep. When patients with OSA are asleep, they repeatedly stop breathing. These pauses can last anywhere from a few seconds to longer than a minute, then normal breathing returns, often with a loud snort.
Left untreated, OSA can increase the risk of chronic heart conditions, including high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat as well as heart attack or failure. Obesity, diabetes, memory problems and strokes are also more likely when the disorder isn’t managed. Plus, untreated OSA boosts the chance of work-related and driving accidents.
How Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?
Many patients with OSA go undiagnosed, as doctors and oral surgeons aren’t able to detect the condition during a routine office exam. And no blood test can diagnose this sleep disorder.
If you think you have a sleep disorder, make an appointment with your oral surgeon and start keeping a sleep diary. Write down the times you go to sleep and wake up, tracking both nighttime slumber and daytime naps. Be sure to indicate how alert and refreshed — or how tired — you are after sleeping.
An OSA diagnosis is based, in part, on the quality of your sleep. Your diary will answer a lot of questions, but your oral surgeon will also perform a physical examination. He or she may recommend you undergo a sleep study, during which you’ll spend the night at a lab with sensors attached to your body monitor your breathing and snoring.
What Are the Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea?
Lifestyle changes, including losing weight, decreasing alcohol consumption and sleeping in different positions, can help in some cases. More often, though, people with OSA need to use a continuous positive airway pressure device, or a CPAP machine.
CPAP machines are effective at maintaining normal breathing during sleep, but they require patients to wear a mask over their mouth or nose at night. This can be uncomfortable, though, and many OSA sufferers stop using the machine.
Oral surgery is becoming more common in the treatment of OSA. With oral surgery, patients can avoid the discomfort of using a CPAP machine and the dental problems wearing the mask can cause. And perhaps more important, surgery permanently corrects the condition, stopping it from being a lifelong health issue.
Do you think you may have OSA? Contact Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery of Utah to schedule an evaluation. With three conveniently located offices in the Salt Lake City area, we are standing by to answer your questions regarding sleep apnea.