Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) plagues approximately 39 million US adults annually. Getting the right diagnosis and treatment is key to relieving symptoms that go hand in hand with OSA, but how do you know when you have sleep apnea?

At ChapmanSmiles Orthodontics in Happy Valley, Clackamas, Oregon, orthodontist Dr. Gary Chapman can help diagnose and recommend treatment for sleep apnea and get your sleep habits back on track for a happier, healthier you.

Risk factors for OSA

Sleep apnea isn’t necessarily hereditary, but it does seem to run in families. Risk factors include:

  • Being older: the risk goes up as you age
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a condition that causes chronic congestion
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Having a narrow airway 

If you have OSA, you might not even know it for years. That’s because symptoms are often assigned to another cause. Here’s what happens if you have sleep apnea.

The mechanism of OSA

Obstructive sleep apnea happens because your throat muscles become lax when you sleep. If they’re too relaxed, the soft tissue around your airway can close off, preventing you from breathing and stopping oxygen flow to the brain.

This sounds terrifying, but you can’t die from the brief lack of oxygen. When your brain doesn’t get the anticipated burst of oxygen, it sends a startle response to the rest of your body, tightening up your muscles just enough to open your airway back up and let you get a breath.

In most cases, you won’t even wake up while all of this goes on. So your muscles go lax again, and the cycle repeats all through the night. Since you’re continually being jolted into not-quite wakefulness, you can’t enter deep sleep, meaning your rest is interrupted even if you don’t know it. This can have multiple adverse effects during your sleeping and waking hours.

4 ways to determine if you have sleep apnea

Since sleep apnea episodes happen while you’re asleep, it might take some time to nail down your symptoms.

1. Snoring, snorting, or choking during sleep

If you have a bed partner, they may have told you about how unpleasant it is to try and sleep beside someone who makes constant noise at night. This is often the first clue that there’s a problem; a partner lets on that you’re a terrible bedmate. (Don’t have a partner? Consider setting up a recorder in your room at night to reveal if you’re a noisy sleeper.)

2. Dry mouth and headache in the morning 

If you suffer from a dry mouth and chronic morning headaches, that’s another sign you could have sleep apnea. You continually suck air down in gasps with intervals of not breathing at all, causing the dry mouth, and the interruptions to your sleep can cause headaches.

3. Mood swings and irritability

Lack of sleep can literally change your personality. If you’ve noticed you’re turning from a happy, easygoing partner and colleague into a sour, snappy companion, sleep apnea might be the culprit.

4. Brain fog and daytime sleepiness

If you’re experiencing moments when you just blank out and can’t find the words you’re looking for, or if you nod off at your desk — or worse, behind the wheel — sleep apnea is something you should be checked for immediately.

Your doctor can order sleep tests to confirm a sleep apnea diagnosis. Once diagnosed, OSA can be treated using a custom oral appliance or various types of orthodontic intervention to adjust your palate and jaw (including expanders for children with sleep apnea).

To learn more about OSA and discuss your options, call ChapmanSmiles Orthodontics at 503-336-1883, or request an appointment online.

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