Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a common disorder that affects millions of men, women and children, but is often undiagnosed, despite the potentially serious consequences of the disorder. Clinically, apnea is defined in adults as a cessation of breathing that lasts at least ten seconds. When obstructive sleep apnea occurs, the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses and closes the airway. Sleep apnea sufferers stop breathing repeatedly during sleep, as frequently as a hundred times an hour. With each episode of apnea the brain receives a signal to arouse the person from sleep in order to begin breathing again. Consequently, the person is getting extremely fragmented sleep which is also of very poor quality.

Identifying Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Unlike simple snoring, obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires medical attention. The risks of undiagnosed OSA include heart attack, stroke, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart disease and decreased libido. In addition, OSA causes daytime drowsiness that can result in accidents, lost productivity and interpersonal relationship problems. The symptoms may be mild, moderate or severe.

Sleep apnea is fairly common. One in five adults has at least mild sleep apnea and one in 15 adults has at least moderate sleep apnea. OSA also affects 1% to 3% of children. During sleep, the upper airway can be obstructed by excess tissue, large tonsils and/or a large tongue. Also contributing to the problem may be the airway muscles, nasal passages, and the size and position of the jaw.

The cessation of breathing, or “apnea,” brought about by these factors initiates impulses from the brain to awaken the person just enough to restart the breathing process.This cycle repeats itself many times during the night and may result in sleep deprivation and a number of health-related problems. Sleep apnea is generally defined as the presence of more than 30 apneas during a seven hour period of sleep. In severe cases, periods of not breathing may last for as long as 60 to 90 seconds and may recur up to 500 times a night.

Treatment Options

Different treatment options exist, depending on the severity of your apnea and other aspects of the disorder. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of this disorder. When appropriate, sleep apnea patients may be fitted with an oral appliance to prevent sleep apnea from occurring. If conservative methods fail to correct the problem, surgery may be indicated. Surgical procedures can involve the soft tissue of the palate and throat or the hard tissue of the upper and lower jaw (jaw advancement and/or chin advancement). Dr. Lamb can help you determine the best treatment option for your individual condition.