Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

While snoring is often harmless and more of a nuisance for your sleeping partner than anything else, it can be an indicator of a more serious issue called obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). OSA is a condition that affects up to 20% of the Australian population in a mild form and approximately 5% in a moderate to serious capacity. OSA is caused by the muscles in the tongue, throat and neck relaxing and completely blocking the airways during sleep. This blockage causes the body’s oxygen levels to fall and carbon dioxide levels to increase. This change in airflow is picked up by the body’s receptors and causes the sleeper to gasp and choke for air, which then results in an abrupt break in the sleep cycle. Breathing then returns to normal and the person will fall back to sleep instantly, often with no recollection of what has just occurred. These pauses in breathing can last anywhere from 10 seconds up to a minute and in severe cases can happen up to 30 times a night.

Signs of sleep apnoea

It is often quite difficult to self-diagnose sleep apnoea as many of the symptoms can also be a result of lifestyle factors, however there are a number of warning signs that you should look out for including;

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue – this is due to the waking episodes preventing your body from achieving a long enough period of deep sleep
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Loud and frequent snoring
  • Waking or gasping for air during sleep
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Lack of energy
  • Regular dry mouth or sore throat.

What causes sleep apnoea?

There are many possible causes for sleep apnoea with the most common being excessive weight and obesity. However there are a number of other factors that increase the risk of OSA including being a male (as they have a higher prevalence of snoring and sleep apnoea), having large tonsils or a narrow airway (especially in children), alcohol consumption, smoking, some medications, nasal congestion or other issues like a deviated septum and facial bone shape.

What are the risks involved with sleep apnoea?

The most obvious problem associated with OSA is increased tiredness and lack of concentration and memory which can affect your day to day life. In addition patients with OSA have a heightened risk of having cardiovascular disease, a stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and a higher incidence of having a car accident. Therefore if you believe that you may have sleep apnoea it is important that you consult your doctor.

What treatments are available?

While OSA is not curable there are many treatments available to help people manage it. The right treatment for you will be based on the cause and severity of your sleep apnoea as well as your age, medical history and lifestyle. Your doctor will be able to diagnose your sleep apnoea and will refer you to the appropriate area for treatment. One area may be your dentist. Dental appliances are an increasing common treatment option for OSA and are also known as a mandibular advancement splint (MAS). An MAS looks quite similar to a mouthguard and works by repositioning the lower jaw and tongue to increase the size of the airway during sleep. Dental appliances provide a comfortable and convenient solution for those that suffer mild to moderate sleep apnoea.

Another common treatment method is a continuous positive airway pressure device, or CPAP machine. These machines are electronic and provide a constant flow of air to the airways through a facial mask. The mask is worn throughout the night to help prevent the airways from collapsing. Often thought to be noisy and bothersome, CPAP machines have advanced overtime and are now much quieter, however some people still feel the need to wear earplugs while sleeping to block out the noise. CPAP machines can be used to treatment all degrees of sleep apnoea and is often the best method for those with severe cases.

For those that are overweight or obese, a reduction in weight is often the first point of call. While weight loss may not cure the OSA it often helps ease the rate of snoring and can make other treatments more effective. Other lifestyle changes like reduction of alcohol consumption and change in sleeping position are also recommended for anyone suffering with OSA.

For more information about OSA or to discuss how an oral appliance may help you achieve a peaceful night’s sleep please call us now to book an appointment.