Sleep apnea is a severe condition where a person stops breathing during sleep, anywhere from a few times a night to several times an hour. There are two main types of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea, and central sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea results from improper signals from the brain to the muscles surrounding the airways and is much less common than obstructive sleep apnea.
What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused, as its name suggests, by an upper airway blockage that occurs during sleep. The block happens when either your tongue pushes against the back of your throat or when soft tissue in the back of your throat relaxes as you sleep. In either case, your breathing is repeatedly interrupted throughout the night.
As it begins to sense decreased oxygen levels, your brain will stir you briefly to restart your breath. Many people don’t even realize they wake up, it happens so fleetingly. The repeated disruptions in your sleep patterns, however, negatively affect your body’s ability to reach the deeper, restful phases of sleep that your body needs to perform efficiently.
Common Signs of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is a chronic process for people who suffer from it, beginning with the airway blockage cutting oxygen off to the brain, and ending with a sudden, startled awakening with a choke or a gasp for air. It can happen anywhere from a few times a night to every few minutes, all night long. It’s so habitual for the individual that they may not even be aware that it is happening. In fact, many people with OSA feel they get plenty of sleep each night.
Often other people in your life will first notice and alert you to the signals that point to potential sleep apnea. Many of the signs, however, are common and can be attributed to many other things, such as stress, overwork or lifestyle habits. If you have noticed or someone has told you that you have more than a few of the following signs, you may want to consult a professional to see if you have OSA:
* intense snoring
* morning headache, dry mouth or a sore throat
* reports that you habitually awake with a snort only to fall right back asleep
* daytime fatigue, sleepiness, and unexplained irritability
* difficulty paying attention
Who is at Risk?
Nearly anyone can suffer from OSA, regardless of whether they enjoy good health otherwise. The chances of developing sleep apnea can be greater, however, for the following people:
* Men – Men are twice as likely to develop OSA than women
* Those with narrow airways – Narrow airways may be genetic, resulting from swollen tonsils or adenoids, or inflamed through smoking or nasal congestion
* People who are overweight – Excess weight may contribute to fat deposits around the upper airway, blocking oxygen flow.
* Older adults – the chances of OSA increase as you age
* Those who use alcohol – alcohol relaxes the muscles in your throat, limiting the ability to move air
Why is OSA Dangerous?
Untreated sleep apnea can interrupt the breathing cycle hundreds of times a night, which results in oxygen deprivation to the brain as well as the rest of the body’s vital organs. Repeated oxygen deprivation can lead to any number of medical complications including Type 2 Diabetes, liver problems and heart disease.
Excessive sleepiness throughout the day can lead to more motor vehicle or workplace accidents. It may also result in moodiness, irritability or even depression. Additionally, a person with sleep apnea is more likely to do poorly and make mistakes in school or at work.
If sleep apnea is the result of excess weight, alcohol use or smoking, simple lifestyle changes may be all that is needed. Allergy treatment is often effective for those whose nasal allergies inflame their airways which prevent adequate air flow.
If lifestyle changes aren’t effective, the most common treatment is the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. A CPAP machine delivers pressurized oxygen through a mask placed over your nose while you sleep. CPAP can be useful in keeping your upper airway passages open, and preventing sleep apnea.
CPAP is by far the most common method of treating moderate to severe sleep apnea, but many find it uncomfortable or impractical.
Your doctor may recommend surgical procedures that can be performed in their office or on an outpatient basis with a dental surgeon. The most common are uvulo-palato-pharyngo-plasty (UPPP) and laser assisted uvulo-palato-plasty (LAUPP), both of which aim to remove tissue from the rear of your mouth and throat.
Orthognathic Surgery (Jaw Surgery)
If other, more standard treatments have failed, you might benefit from a surgical procedure called orthognathic surgery (commonly known as jaw surgery). Jaw surgery adjusts the positioning of your upper and lower jaws, which, in turn, opens your airway by moving the soft tissues of your tongue and palate.
The orthognathic surgery is performed by a surgeon specializing in oral (teeth) and maxillofacial (jaw and face) procedures, generally in the hospital under anesthesia.
In addition to being an effective remedy for obstructive sleep apnea, jaw surgery can significantly improve a misaligned bite, which may promote healthier chewing and even speaking skills. And, as many people with misaligned jaws exhibit facial features such as a receding jaw or weak chin, orthognathic surgery may also enhance your facial appearance.
Corrective jaw surgery for obstructive sleep apnea will be different for each patient, and an experienced maxillofacial surgeon will evaluate your unique facial bone and tissue structure to determine the correct course to take during surgery to best remedy the airway obstruction. Because you will meet with your surgeon several times before the actual procedure, a convenient location is also important.
If you are looking to correct your obstructive sleep apnea through corrective jaw surgery in the NYC area, schedule a consultation with Dr. Jamali. With almost ten years’ experience in cosmetic and restorative dental and facial surgery, Dr. Jamali can help diagnose your condition and determine the best course of action. Dr. Jamali is based in New York, and his physical address is 42 Broadway, New York, NY 10004, USA. You can contact Dr. Jamali through 212-480-2777.