People with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have disrupted sleep and low blood oxygen levels. When obstructive sleep apnea occurs, the tongue is sucked against the back of the throat. This blocks the upper airway and airflow stops. When the oxygen level in the brain becomes low enough, the sleeper partially awakens, the obstruction in the throat clears, and the flow of air starts again, usually with a loud gasp.
Repeated cycles of decreased oxygenation lead to very serious cardiovascular problems. Additionally, these individuals suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness, depression, and loss of concentration.
Some patients have obstructions that are less severe called Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS) or a condition of primary snoring. In either case, the individuals suffer many of the same symptoms.
The first step in treatment resides in recognition of the symptoms and seeking appropriate consultation. A sleep study may be recommended by a sleep medicine physician to monitor an individual overnight to confirm the amount of cardiovascular compromise and decreased oxygenation levels.
There are several treatment options available. An initial treatment may consist of using a nasal CPAP machine that delivers pressurized oxygen through a nasal mask to limit obstruction at night. An effective non-invasive alternative to the CPAP machine is oral appliance therapy. Oral appliances can be used to maintain the mandible in a forward position and prevent airway collapse for patients with primary snoring, or mild to moderate OSA that cannot tolerate the CPAP machine. In more complex cases, surgical options may be indicated.
OSA is a very serious condition that needs careful attention and treatment. We have been treating patients with these conditions for over twenty years with oral appliance therapy.