Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a potentially serious disorder in which airflow is restricted during sleep. Individuals affected by this condition stop breathing for short periods of time in their sleep, and this could happen as many as hundred times during a night. As OSA reduces the amount of oxygen being delivered to all your organs including the lungs, heart and brain, it can be fatal.
Here’s a simple explanation of what happens when you have obstructive sleep apnea.
- When you breathe, air travels into your throat, down your windpipe and into your lungs.
- The narrowest part of this pathway is in the back of your throat.
- When you are awake, muscles keep that pathway relatively wide open.
- When you sleep, those muscles relax allowing the opening to narrow. The air passing through this narrow opening may cause the throat to vibrate. This results in the snoring which many people experience.
- In some cases, the throat closes so much that enough air cannot get through to the lungs.
- When this happens, the brain sends an alarm to open the airway. This is often associated with a brief arousal from sleep.
- The brain then quickly reactivates the muscles that hold the throat open and air gets through again. Then the brain goes back to sleep.
Watch this video to learn more about obstructive sleep apnea and whether or not you have this condition.
Some signs of obstructive sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring
- Falling asleep during the day
- General daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty staying asleep, or insomnia
- Waking up during the night gasping for breath or with a choking sound
- Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Morning headache
- Difficult-to-control high blood pressure
Obstructive sleep apnea is a life-threatening condition that can affect people at any age. The condition typically worsens as you get older or gain weight. Oral appliance therapy provided by an experienced dentist can help alleviate your condition.