Sleep apnea (also called obstructive sleep apnea or OSA) is a medical condition that causes your breathing to be interrupted many times a night, sometimes hundreds of times during your sleep. Each interruption is very brief - so brief, you may not even realize it’s happening. Although some people who have apnea also snore, you can have apnea without snoring. Still others may wake up from sleep gasping for breath. These interruptions in normal breathing occur when the soft tissues at the back of your throat become relaxed and descend into your airway, preventing you from breathing normally. People who are obese are more likely to have sleep apnea and so are men, but anyone can develop it.
Since we all need a steady flow of oxygen to live, it’s not hard to imagine why apnea - and the repeated breathing interruptions it causes- is bad for your health. Studies show people who have sleep apnea are more likely to have heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, and obesity, as well as problems focusing and mood-related disorders, including depression. Apnea also causes excessive daytime drowsiness, increasing the risk of serious accidents.
Some people who have sleep partners may find out they have apnea when their partner reports about habits like snoring or repeated interruptions in breathing. But even without those “eyewitness” accounts, a dentist often can tell if you have apnea simply by examining you and reviewing your symptoms like persistent drowsiness or snoring. If apnea is suspected, Dr. Azar may recommend a sleep study, which uses special testing equipment to monitor your breathing during sleep.
A breathing device called a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine is often recommended for people with apnea, but many men and women find the device uncomfortable or difficult (or even impossible) to wear and use during sleep. More recently, researchers have found apnea can be treated with a special oral device that’s worn during sleep. The device fits over your teeth and gently shifts your lower jaw forward, just enough to prevent your airway from becoming blocked while you sleep. Dr. Azar custom-fits these devices so they’re extremely comfortable. Regular use of an apnea device can help you get a better night’s sleep while also helping you avoid the serious medical complications associated with untreated apnea.
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