Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is a serious medical condition that can cause debilitating symptoms and is life-threatening if left untreated. Many people who have obstructive sleep apnea aren't aware of it, or don’t realize just how dangerous the condition is. Heavy or excessive snoring is one of the most common signs that you or a loved one suffers from this disabling form of sleep apnea.
If you have obstructive sleep apnea, you periodically stop breathing for brief periods of time when you are sleeping. You stop breathing because your airway is somehow blocked, sometimes because the muscles of the mouth or throat have relaxed. You may also suffer from sleep apnea because your sinuses are blocked, the alignment of the jaw is incorrect, or because you have too much soft palate tissue blocking the airway.
Any time you stop breathing, you are depriving your body and brain of oxygen. Fortunately, your brain usually recognizes this when you are sleeping and will wake you enough to catch your breath. Unfortunately, this means you aren't able to get enough restful sleep, and you are still reducing the amount of oxygen you're getting several times a night. In severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea, you may go through the waking/sleeping cycle dozens of times each hour -- no wonder you feel groggy in the morning!
How Serious Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Most people don't realize they are waking up frequently during the night with obstructive sleep apnea. This sometimes lulls them into thinking that OSA isn't serious or dangerous. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The long term effects of obstructive sleep apnea and oxygen deprivation can be serious or even fatal.
Health problems that are caused by obstructive sleep apnea include:
• Heart attack
• Irregular heartbeat
• High blood pressure
• Acid Reflux
• Anxiety or irritability
• Chronic pain syndromes
• Joint or muscle pain
• Impaired cognition
• Short term memory problems
• Attention Deficit or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
• Mood swings
If you aren't sure whether you have obstructive sleep apnea, consider the following symptoms, which can be signs of obstructive sleep apnea:
• Unexplained weight gain
• Dry mouth and/or sore throat
• Fatigue even after sleeping eight hours or more
• Headaches on waking
• Mouth breathing
• Brain fog
• Decreased interest in sex
• Below par performance at work or school
• Waking at night gasping for air
• Loud or excessive snoring
If you suspect you have obstructive sleep apnea, consult your doctor or dentist immediately to determine the appropriate course of treatment. One more night without enough oxygen could cause serious health risks.