Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is much more than just snoring overnight. This potentially serious sleep disorder causes your breathing to repeatedly stop and start during sleep, due to your throat muscles intermittently relaxing and blocking your airway during sleep.
OSA can cause severe disruption to your sleep, leaving you feeling drowsy and unable to concentrate during the day. It can also impact your health if left untreated, including lowering the flow of oxygen to your organs and causing uneven heart rhythms.
If you suffer from OSA, the good news is there are a number of treatments available, including from your National Dental Care Group dentist. Read on to learn more about OSA and how we can help you address this condition.
What is obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)?
Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax too much, impacting your ability to breathe normally and causing you to wake up multiple times during the night.
Your breathing may become shallow and stop for short periods, and you may wake up several times throughout the night with a loud gasp. These brief wake-sleep cycles repeat throughout the night.
Here’s a breakdown of how sleep apnoea causes these disruptive wake-sleep cycles:
- When your throat muscles relax, your airway narrows or closes, resulting in inadequate breathing for a period of ten seconds or longer.
- Your brain senses this impaired breathing and briefly wakes you up so that your airway can reopen.
- You may awaken with shortness of breath that quickly corrects itself, and you may make a snorting, choking, or gasping sound.
- The pattern can repeat itself up to 30 times an hour, all night long. This repeated wake-sleep cycle can significantly impair your ability to have a deep and restful sleep.
As the constant awakenings occur very quickly, people with obstructive sleep apnoea may not even be aware that their sleep was interrupted. However, as a result of this sleep disruption, they are likely to feel drowsy during waking hours.
Who is at risk of developing obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)?
While it’s possible for anyone to develop obstructive sleep apnoea, there are a number of risk factors that increase the chances of developing this condition. These include:
- Being overweight: Excessive weight can cause fatty deposits around the upper airway to obstruct breathing. However, not everyone who is overweight will develop OSA and this condition can also affect slim people.
- Having a narrowed airway: A narrow airway can be caused by genetics, or result from tonsils or adenoids become enlarged and blocking the airway.
- High blood pressure (hypertension): OSA is relatively common in people who suffer from hypertension.
- Chronic nasal congestion: People who have consistent nasal congestion at night are twice as likely to develop OSA.
- Smoking: People who smoke are at higher risk of developing OSA.
- Diabetes: OSA is more common in people who suffer from diabetes.
- Sex: Men are twice as likely as women to develop OSA. However, the frequency of OSA increases in women after menopause.
- Neck structure: People with larger or thicker necks may be more at risk of developing OSA.
What are the symptoms of sleep apnoea?
There are a number of symptoms you may experience if you are suffering from OSA. Many patients affected by this condition will notice some of the following symptoms:
- A dry mouth or sore throat in the morning
- Feeling very drowsy during waking hours
- Loud, habitual snoring (however, not everyone who snores loudly has OSA)
- Waking up without feeling refreshed or well-rested
- Noticeable episodes of disrupted breathing overnight
- Sudden awakening accompanied by gasping or choking
- Headaches in the morning
- Finding it difficult to concentrate or focus during the day
- Mood changes, including depression or irritability
- High blood pressure
- Night sweats
- Reduced libido
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Insomnia with frequent tossing and turning overnight
If you share a bed with your partner, they may notice the signs of sleep apnoea before you do.
Can children suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA)?
Yes, just like adults, children can also experience OSA. However, the symptoms of sleep apnoea in children can be slightly different from those seen in adults.
Signs and symptoms of OSA in children include the following:
- Choking or drooling
- Night sweats
- Inward-moving ribcage as they breathe
- Learning and behavioural problems
- Issues at school
- Sluggishness or sleepiness (often put down to ‘laziness’)
- Teeth grinding
- Restlessness in bed
- Breathing that pauses or stops
- Unusual sleeping positions, such as sleeping on hands and knees, or with the neck bent far back.
Other medications can also cause these symptoms, so it’s important to check with your GP to find out whether this might be the case.
How can Obstructive Sleep Apnoea be treated?
If you’re experiencing OSA, there are a few initial steps you can take to assist with this condition, particularly if your sleep apnoea is relatively mild. These include:
- Losing weight: Reducing your body weight by 10% can have a positive effect on sleep apnoea.
- Avoiding alcohol or sedatives: Substances such as alcohol and sleeping pills can contribute to the symptoms of OSA, so are best avoided.
- Sleeping on your side: If you have mild sleep apnoea, sleeping on your side rather than your back can be helpful.
- Nasal sprays: If nasal congestion is making it hard to breathe while you sleep, using a nasal spray can help to treat sinus problems causing this congestion.
However, most patients with sleep apnoea will require more extensive treatment to address their condition. These treatments include:
Oral appliances worn overnight
If you have mild or moderate sleep apnoea, your National Dental Care Group dentist can develop a custom-made appliance called an oral mandibular advancement device. This helps to prevent the tissues at the back of your throat from collapsing and blocking your airway while you sleep.
Your dentist will use custom-made bite impressions and models to create a device that’s comfortable and tailored to your mouth. For more information, contact your local National Dental Care Group practice.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) via a nasal mask
Worn over your nose, mouth or both, these devices use an air blower which directs a constant flow of air through your nose or mouth. The air pressure is just enough to prevent the tissue in your upper airway from relaxing too much.
CPAP devices are the most effective treatment for OSA, helping to improve sleep quality and reduce daytime drowsiness in sufferers. However, some people find wearing the mask too difficult or uncomfortable, so this may not be a suitable option for everyone.
Surgical treatment for OSA
Surgery to address OSA is rare. However, there are some procedures which may be used in certain cases. For example, a treatment called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) removes some of the throat's soft tissues that collapse the airway during sleep. Although this treatment can help to reduce snoring, it doesn't always cure OSA.
If you or a loved one is suffering from obstructive sleep apnoea, we can advise on the best course of treatment. Book an appointment online today and chat to our friendly staff about your options.