Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder characterized by repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep. These interruptions are caused by partial or complete blockage of the upper airway.
OSA occurs when the muscles of the throat relax during sleep, causing narrowing or blockage of the airways. Risk factors for OSA include a narrow throat canal, enlarged tonsils or tongue, specific jaw structures such as a recessed lower jaw, and being overweight. Age and gender (more common in men) also play a role.
The most common symptoms of OSA are loud snoring, repeated pauses in breathing during sleep (often noticed by a bed partner), daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Many people with OSA do not sleep restfully.
Diagnosing OSA requires a sleep study performed in a sleep laboratory or sometimes at home. Various body functions are measured during sleep, taking into account the sleep position and depth, including breathing, oxygen saturation in the blood, heart rate and motor activity.
The most common treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which delivers a constant airflow to keep the airway open. Custom-made dental splint therapy is a popular and effective option for mild and moderate cases. If there are appropriate underlying structural conditions, surgical interventions such as septoplasty, a tongue pacemaker or a jawbone realignment osteotomy can also be recommended.
Treating OSA is important because untreated cases not only suffer from daytime sleepiness and, therefore, have a significantly increased risk of accidents but also have an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes. If you suspect OSA, you should seek medical advice.