Wednesday, November 30th, 2011
One of our team members came to me this week with a very sad story – her childhood friend died in her sleep last week; she was just 29 years old. The cause of death? Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Essentially she suffocated in her sleep. My heart breaks for this young girl and her family. This story makes me even more passionate about our decision to treat OSA in our practice.
We know that obstructive sleep apnea is very common; over 40 million people suffer from the effects of snoring and OSA. Risk factors include being male (1 in 4!) overweight, and over the age of forty, but sleep apnea can strike ANYONE at ANY age, even children. Many sufferers remain undiagnosed and therefore untreated.
During the increasing muscular relaxation of deepening sleep, the airway becomes increasingly flaccid; the soft palate, the soft lining tissues of the throat and the tongue relax, fall back and collapse during sleep. As the relaxing tongue falls back, it seals against the back of the throat during attempts to take a breath. Snoring is the vibration of the soft palate and throat walls against the tongue during the breathing, with reduced airflow due to increased resistance. As collapsibility increases, complete closure can occur.
In apnea events oxygen levels of the blood can drop, triggering a response of the brain to prevent asphyxia. These severe drops in blood oxygen levels immediately causes alarm signals to be sent to your brain. Your body reacts by increasing heart rate, cardiac output, and blood pressure – desperately trying to get more deoxygenated blood to your lungs and more oxygenated blood out to your brain and body. Serious cardiovascular and respiratory responses occur during sleep apnea, often with you unaware. The sleep apnea patient may have these events occur up to 600 times per night resulting in fragmented, non-refreshing sleep as well as chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Some of the most serious chronic diseases which have been associated with snoring and sleep apnea, include: stroke, high blood pressure, heart attack, arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), cardiac arrhythmias (irregular pulse), diabetes, gastro-esophageal reflux disorder (GERD). In extreme cases the result is loss of life.
Fortunately treatment is relatively simple – in cases of snoring and mild to moderate sleep apnea a sleep appliance is made that can fit in the palm of your hand; much like a nightguard. This dental appliance is more comfortable and considerably less bulky than traditional OSA devices. Our patients have commented on how treatment has changed their lives. They are sleeping better and wake up feeling more rested. In some cases husbands and wives who have gone from sleeping in separate bedrooms due to loud snoring are now sleeping in the same room again.
I urge you – if you suspect you or someone you know (many of our patients are referred by family members who are fed up with that loud snoring) many have sleep apnea contact us today for a diagnostic screening.