The first time I recall hearing anything about obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) was shortly after the death of former Philadelphia Eagle and NFL great Reggie White, the famed “Minister of Defense”. Coming just a few weeks after his 43rd birthday, Reggie’s passing really affected my psyche and brought national attention to the issue. After all, he was such a physical specimen as to actually intimidate opposing players. So what happened?
It turns out that sleep apnea happens when one’s airway becomes blocked while sleeping. In many cases it is because a person is overweight and excess tissue thickens the wall of the windpipe making it more difficult to breathe. Sometimes it is because the throat muscles relax more than normal. It’s estimated that about 30 million Americans have sleep apnea with about half of those being undiagnosed. One study estimates the prevalence of OSA in the population visiting the dental office as approaching 34%.
The signs and symptoms of OSA can range from mild snoring to a feeling of general tiredness, cognitive impairment, an increase in blood pressure, pulmonary hypertension, obesity and an increase in one’s Body Mass Index (BMI). Left untreated OSA can result in heart attack, stroke and in the case of some, like Reggie White, premature death. Additionally, people with OSA are two-three times more likely to be involved in a car crash than those who do not suffer from it, and five times more likely to be involved in a serious car crash!
Obstructive Sleep Apnea can only be diagnosed by a qualified physician with the aid of a polysomnogram (sleep study).Initial treatment may involve abstaining from alcohol and sleep medications, weight loss and a change in sleep position.Beyond that, the gold standard for treatment of OSA is the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. Surgery may help some and the use of a removable dental appliance to open the airway may also help.
If you think you may be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea don’t hesitate to discuss this with your physician or call us for a referral.We will be looking for signs of this silent killer each and every time you visit us in the office as well!