Normal breathing occurs when air passes through the throat on its way to the lungs. Air travels past the soft, flexible structures such as the soft palate, uvula, tonsils and tongue. In the daytime, muscles surrounding these structures tighten to prevent blockage of the airway. When sleeping, the jaw falls back and, because the tongue is attached to the jaw, it obstructs the airway. This leads to a reduction in air flow, a snoring sound and/or sleep apnea.
Snoring can be present with or without sleep apnea. The snoring sound is produced from the vibration of the soft palate and sides of the throat when air rushes against them.
Sleep affects every facet of our health and well being: Moods and behavior, energy and emotions, marriages, jobs and our very sanity and happiness.
Sleep patterns change as we go through life. Not all sleep is the same, and the amount of restful sleep we get can decrease with age, weight gain and the degree of airway blockage.
While snoring may only produce nightime noises, it becomes more serious when a person stops breathing for at least 10 seconds at a time up to 30 or more times a night, then either gasps for air or chokes. This is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
To help understand obstructive sleep breathing disorders, it is good to know the definition of apnea. This is a Greek word that means “want of breath.” The apnea sufferer may or may not be aware that they stop breathing, gasp for air or awaken during the night. Nonetheless, the entire body is still affected.
Imagine night after night of interrupted sleep from apnea and how the entire body wears down
because it does not rejuvenate at night as it would with appropriate rest and sound sleep. The result can
be anything from automobile accidents and lack of concentration to falling asleep during a meeting.
OSA becomes hazardous because oxygen to the brain is restricted. This puts great strain on the cardiovascular system which may lead to stroke or heart disease and strain on the lungs and other
organs. This lack of oxygen often causes morning headaches, high blood pressure, poor decision making and fatigue. The deterioration of cells from oxygen deprivation that have been linked to OSA include:
Irritable bowel syndrome
Type II diabetes
Sleep physicians and dentists work together to determine the best course of treatment for each individual. When snoring progresses to sleep apnea, a serious health problem exists. When apnea goes untreated, it can be fatal!