What is obstructive sleep apnea?
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, which affects upwards of 45 million Americans. People with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have disrupted sleep and low blood oxygen levels. When obstructive sleep apnea occurs, the tongue is sucked against the back of the throat. This blocks the upper airway and airflow stops. When the oxygen level in the brain becomes low enough, the sleeper partially awakens, the obstruction in the throat clears, and the flow of air starts again, usually with a loud gasp. People with OSA snore and repeatedly experience brief interruptions of breathing (apnea) during sleep, otherwise known as sleep apnea or sleep disordered breathing.
Repeated cycles of decreased oxygenation lead to very serious cardiovascular problems. Additionally, these individuals suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness, depression, and loss of concentration.
Some patients have obstructions that are less severe called Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS). In either case, the individuals suffer many of the same symptoms.
What are the common symptoms OSA?
Common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) include:
- Awakening due to gasping or choking
- Restless sleep
- Memory impairment
- Morning headaches
- Morning sore throat or dry mouth
- Frequent nocturnal urination
- Erectile dysfunction
How much sleep do we really need?
- Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
- Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)
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What are the treatment options for sleep apnea?
The first step in treatment for sleep apnea resides in recognition of the symptoms and seeking appropriate consultation. Once diagnosed, sleep apnea can be successfully treated. Treatment can restore normal breathing during sleep, reduce stress on your heart, relieve symptoms, and improve quality of life.
In addition to a detailed history, the doctors will assess the anatomic relationships in the maxillofacial region. With cephalometic (skull x-ray) analysis, the doctors can ascertain the level of obstruction. Sometimes a naso-pharyngeal exam is done with a flexible fiber-optic camera. To confirm the amount of cardiovascular compromise and decreased oxygenation levels, a sleep study may be recommended to monitor an individual overnight.
Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea
There are several treatment options available. An initial treatment may consist of using a nasal CPAP machine that delivers pressurized oxygen through a nasal mask to limit obstruction at night. One of the surgical options is an uvulo-palato-pharyngo-plasty (UPPP), which is performed in the back of the soft palate and throat. A similar procedure is sometimes done with the assistance of a laser and is called a laser assisted uvulo-palato-plasty (LAUPP). In other cases, a radio-frequency probe is utilized to tighten the soft palate. These procedures are usually performed under light IV sedation in the office.
OSA is a very serious condition that needs careful attention and treatment. Most major medical plans offer coverage for diagnosis and treatment.