Snoring and Sleep Apnea (usually abbreviated OSA for Obstructive Sleep Apnea) are sleep disorders that are caused by either a partial obstruction of the airway (snoring) or a complete obstruction of the airway (apnea). OSA occurs when the tissue in the back of the throat collapses and blocks the airway. During snoring, the airway becomes partially obstructed as the tongue relaxes and falls back. If it only relaxes part way, the airway becomes narrower and the air passing through this narrow opening picks up speed resulting in the flapping of the base of the tongue and tissues. This gives the snoring sound. Imagine a wide river meandering along then coming into a narrow canyon. The river picks up speed passing through the canyon (making it fun for rafting) then slows down as it widens out (making it nice for canoers). If the base of the tongue completely covers the airway, you will stop breathing until a natural waking reflex causes you to stir often choking then repeating itself again often hundreds of times in an evening. Ever wonder why you might be tired during the day?
While both of these conditions may not sound serious, a significant number of people who snore actually have or will develop apnea in their lifetimes and those with apnea are at risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure) and other associated diseases such as diabetes (overweight people are at risk for OSA as well as diabetes) and possibly even Alzheimer's Disease. Over the last several years, much research has been done in this field so continue to check the website for new research results.
What should you do if you suspect either you or your spouse or sleeping partner has apnea?
You may contact our office for a consultation regarding possible options for testing and treatment or you may just contact your primary care physician and discuss it with him/her. Testing may include a sleep study at a clinic where you would sleep there overnight while hooked up to monitors that will measure your sleep patterns. I also have a portable take-home monitor that will screen you to see if you have sleep apnea. If you fall within a certain range you would be a candidate for treatment which could include a CPAP machine which forces positive air into your nose throughout the night. This is presently the most effective and least invasive treatment for snoring and OSA but many patients don't like wearing the device. There is a surgical option which is accomplished by removing loose tissue in the back of your throat. This option is about 75-85% successful as is the next option which is wearing an oral appliance (OA).
This appliance positions your lower jaw forward holding it throughout the night thus keeping your tongue from falling back in your throat. Since the CPAP device presently has a low usage rate, the mouth appliance has become the second-tier treatment for many patients. We have had great success treating mild to moderate apnea with our oral appliances. There is also a new procedure that is being performed which is actual jaw surgery where your lower jaw is surgically moved forward thus maintaining the airway throughout the night. This may have some promise but it is still quite new and I would like to see more long-term results before I start recommending it. Please feel free to ask me questions about this because I feel very strongly that diagnosing and treating this disease can extend your life.
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