What is Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is when a person completely stops breathing during sleep. Most often the primary cause is the tongue falling backward and blocking the airway. As opposed to apnea, a hypopnea episode is a partial blockage of the airway during sleep. Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder, affecting nearly 1 in 8 individuals. Snoring, at times only an annoyance to those around you, may also be a sign of the sleep disordered breathing, apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea as well as hypopnea decrease the efficiency of sleep and are associated with daytime drowsiness. The lack of proper sleep can also lead to decreased job efficiency and less alertness, and also to generalized mood changes. Uncontrolled obstructive sleep apnea in the long term, will also adversely affect the vascular system which can lead to impotence, heart attacks and strokes. It is important to note that there is no cure for obstructive sleep apnea; it only can be treated.
What Treatments are Available?
Traditionally, the CPAP (Continuous Positive Air Pressure) machine is prescribed. An individual wears a mask over the mouth and/or nose connected to a continuous positive air pressure machine. Although CPAP therapy is very effective, there are many who find the machine and/or mask uncomfortable.
Oral Appliance Therapy is an alternative treatment that has proven to be a comfortable and effective therapy and often will be prescribed as a first line of treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. Oral Appliance Therapy involves the selection, design, fitting and use of an oral appliance that is worn during sleep. These oral appliances, called Mandibular Advancing Appliances (MAAs), that treat snoring and obstructive sleep apnea are worn in the mouth, similar to orthodontic retainers or sports mouth guards. They function by keeping the lower jaw and tongue from falling back during sleep to maintain an open and unobstructed airway.