Apnea means "no breath," and obstructive sleep apnea occurs when there's an obstruction in the airway, making it difficult for a person to breathe, according to Dr. Roger Briggs of Briggs Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Scottsdale, Arizona. He notes that obstructive sleep apnea is now more prevalent than asthma.
For patients with obstructive sleep apnea, the tongue and soft palate tissues get in the back of the throat and when all of the air is let out of their body, the airway collapses when they try to get air back in. A typical episode lasts about 30 seconds, says Dr. Briggs.
If you're constantly being aroused from sleep during these episodes, while you're not fully awaken, you will not feel good the next day. Affecting young and old, Dr. Briggs says that for the young, without enough sleep, it diminishes their brain capacity, leading to difficulty concentrating and learning. For older patients, it changes their moods and ability to think clearly. Dr. Briggs notes that since truck drivers have started controlling obstructive sleep apnea, daytime accidents have plummeted.
There are cumulative effects as well, as during these episodes, harmful chemicals raise insulin levels and oxygen levels drop. This eventually leads to an increased risk for stroke and heart attacks, as well as cancer, Dr. Briggs says.
Early diagnosis is important, says Dr. Briggs and treatment can be as simple as changing a person's lifestyle, such as weight loss.
Dr. Roger Briggs is with Briggs Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dr. Briggs is a leading dental expert with Dentist News Network, providing online, on-demand dental news video content across many dental specialties.