OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNEA: CAUSES
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a life-threatening disorder that is estimated to occur in approximately 18 million Americans! This includes 1 out of every 4 men, and 1 out of every 10 women between the ages of 30 and 60 years. Among people under age 35, OSA is more common among blacks than other ethnic groups.
OSA often goes undiagnosed. If left untreated, OSA can have serious consequences, from workplace injuries and drowsy driving accidents to significantly increasing your risk of diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. The good news is that we can provide solutions that will your manage OSA, improve your quality of life, and help you enjoy the benefits of quality sleep.
Risk factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnea include:
- Chronic Snoring: Vibrations of the soft palate and uvula, which produce the snoring noise, can cause changes to tissue structure and lead to development of OSA. (Note: Snoring does not automatically mean that you have OSA. However, anyone who snores will benefit from a sleep evaluation.)
- Overweight or Obesity: When you are overweight, extra fat tissue builds up around your throat, chest and abdomen. This can create extra resistance that can make difficult for you to breath. (Note: Being overweight does not automatically mean that you have sleep apnea. Likewise, you can be very slim yet still suffer from sleep apnea.)
- Large Neck Circumference: Extra fat tissue may lead to some narrowing in your throat, which can make it prone to obstruction while you sleep. If you have a large neck (17” for men, 16” for women), studies show that you are especially at risk for OSA.
- Chronic Nasal Congestion: According to research, OSA occurs 2x more often in people who have consistent nasal congestion at night, regardless of the cause. This may be due to narrowed airways.
- Narrow Airways, Upper Airway Abnormalities and/or TMJ Disorders: Sometimes people may inherit a naturally narrow throat or be born with abnormalities, such as a small or recessed jaw (i.e., “retrognathia”) or a large tongue (i.e., “macroglossia”), that make it easier for their airway to close. Enlarged tonsils or adenoids, especially in children, may also cause the airway to be smaller than it should be and result in sleep apnea.
- Positive OSA Family History: If you have family members who have been diagnosed with OSA, you may be at increased risk. This is because aspects related to the shape and size of your airway and craniofacial features are inherited.
- Diabetes: OSA has found to be more prevalent in people who have been diagnosed with diabetes. Additionally, people who suffer from OSA and diabetes have found to be more resistant to insulin treatment if their sleep disorder remains untreated.
- Alcohol, Medications & Drugs: Use of alcohol can relax muscles, making the upper airway more likely to collapse. This may also occur when using sedatives (i.e., sleeping pills and medications such as benzodiazepines) and other narcotic medications for pain relief.
- Loss of Muscle Tone: OSA occurs in about 7% of adults and becomes more common as we age, affecting nearly 25% of the elderly. In brief, as we get older we lose muscle tone. This includes loss of tone within the muscles of our upper airway and, especially, our throat. The result is a more relaxed airway that 1) is easier to obstruct while we are asleep, and 2) makes conditions such as high-blood pressure and diabetes worse. It can also lead to stroke, heart attack and even death.
- Chronic Pain: Any sort of chronic pain may impair sleep. Neurological disorders such as neurodegenerative diseases, strokes, headache syndromes, and neuromuscular disorders including TMJ pain and dysfunction are associated with sleep disorders.
- Sleeping on Your Back: When you sleep on your back, excessive weight in the upper body may cause you to snore and/or cause your upper airway to collapse. (When you sleep on your side, the weight doesn’t press onto your throat.)
- Dreaming: In many people, sleep apnea occurs more frequently during dreaming or REM (i.e., Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is likely due to the muscle relaxation that occurs during REM sleep that is meant to prevent you from acting out your dreams; however, it can also make your airway more likely to collapse.
When to Consult a Qualified Dentist
Living with untreated OSA can take a heavy toll on you and your family. Dr. Bailey can provide effective treatment that will enable you to enjoy the benefits of quality, recuperative sleep.
If you do not feel refreshed after a full night’s sleep, contact us. Our practice is focused exclusively on providing solutions for patients who suffer from sleep-disordered breathing problems (i.e., snoring, OSA and CPAP Intolerance) and TMJ disorders.
Keep in mind, too, that people who have sleep apnea are often unaware of it. This is where family can help. If your bed partner snores loudly during sleep, or his or her breathing stops and starts during the night, encourage them to schedule an appointment for an evaluation.
Last but not least, if you have been unhappy with treatment you have received for sleep apnea in the past ? including but not limited to CPAP ? don’t give up. Dr. Bailey is constantly attending continuing education programs to stay abreast of advances in dental sleep medicine and the design of oral sleep appliances, enabling our office to provide the highest quality, state-of-the-art care available.