If you have obstructive sleep apnea
your breathing pauses for brief periods while you are asleep. Normally when you breathe in, air flows in through your mouth and nose down your throat also called the pharynx. when you sleep it's normal for the muscles in your mouth, tongue and pharynx to relax slightly, but not enough to block your airway
In obstructive sleep apnea the muscles of your mouth and pharynx may relax too much, your tongue drops on to the soft tissue in the roof of your mouth, pressing it against the back of your throat, this completely blocks the flow of air into your lungs.
A lack of oxygen in your lungs wakes you up. You may gasp for air to reestablish airflow before falling asleep again. The cycle of apnea and waking up may happen many times at night preventing restful sleep.
Factors that may contribute to obstructive sleep apnea include:
- Obesity because more fat may be present in the walls of the pharynx
- A small or receding jaw with a narrowed airway
- Loss of muscle tone in your pharynx due to aging
- Swollen tonsils
Common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea are:
Left untreated obstructive sleep apnea may lead to complications such as:
- Morning headaches
- Chronic daytime sleepiness
- Impaired concentration
Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to treat obstructive sleep apnea including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Irregular heartbeats called arrhythmias
- Loosing weight
- Sleeping on your side
- Not smoking
- Avoiding substances that can make you sleepy such as alcohol and sedatives
For mild or moderate obstructive sleep apnea an oral appliance may keep your airway open, this device works by pulling your jaw forward and moving both your tongue and the roof of your mouth away from the back of your throat.
The most common and effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP machine
. This machine pumps air through a tube into a mask that fits over nose or both your nose and mouth. The mild air pressure of the CPAP machine helps keep your airway open, enabling you to get a deep restful sleep.