Physical Characteristics of People With Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) can affect anyone at any time. It affects wives who can’t sleep due to their husband’s snoring. It affects children when their parents are too tired to pursue a connected relationship. It affects the individual with sleep apnea physically, mentally, and emotionally. Whether you know for sure you have OSA or your significant other suggests that you should have a sleep study done, there are a few predictors that can help determine whether you are at risk.

A “Thick” Neck

The anatomy of the neck is vital to the proper breathing, especially during periods of rest.  When the circumference of your neck is greater than 17 inches, there is usually not enough room for the airway to stay open without muscle control. Once a person falls asleep, the muscle keeping the airway open collapses, allowing the passage to narrow and close. A minimal amount of air can be forced through the passage, but it creates a rattling sound, the snoring you are used to hearing with OSA. The larger the neck is, the greater the likelihood of a sleeping disorder.

Weight Problems

Neck circumference is typically, but not always, predicted by a person’s weight: most people who are overweight have a larger neck circumference.  Overweight and obese persons are at a much higher risk for OSA and the medical complications that come along with it than those who are at a healthy weight. According to research there’s as much as a 14% increase in risk per additional point of BMI!  Losing just 5-10% of your body weight can help alleviate your symptoms and risk.

Worn Down Teeth

This is one of the lesser known signs of sleep apnea.  Most people know about snoring and wakefulness, but if you grind your teeth during the night, there is a good chance that you have sleep apnea. So what’s the connection?  When you go to sleep, and especially as you approach the deepest levels of sleep, your body has to completely relax, including the soft tissues of your mouth.  This relaxation of your palate, muscles, and tongue blocks your airway. Your brain sends signals to wake up the soft tissue enough so that you can breathe. Sometimes these signals go to the legs; people with OSA will often kick their legs during the night to wake up to breathe. In other people, the signals go to the bladder and the affected person will have to go to the bathroom multiple times overnight. Frequently, the brain’s signal goes to the jaw, causing clenching and grinding. It’s enough to wake you up to breathe and enough to wear your teeth out!

A Simple Fix

In the past 40 years, OSA has been successfully treated with a continuous positive air pressure unit, or CPAP. More recent developments have shown that mild to moderate OSA can be treated with a dental splint. This appliance is custom fitted to your mouth and is easier to use than the CPAP.

If you have questions about whether this treatment is right for you, contact Dr. Agarwal at Raleigh Dental Arts!

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