Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) affects about 17% of all adults, but the rate is much lower in women and significantly higher in men. When you have OSA, you’ll snore and feel fatigued throughout the day. Otherwise, you won’t experience early symptoms of the serious health problems that develop when OSA goes untreated. Although continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are the best-known treatment for OSA, they aren’t your only option.
Here at Glow Orthodontics in Manassas, Woodbridge, and Fredericksburg, Virginia, we can provide customized oral appliances that effectively treat OSA in most patients. With an oral appliance to wear while you sleep, you can get a good night’s sleep and prevent the health complications that develop when you don’t treat OSA.
Here’s what happens when you have sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea causes your breathing to stop then start again, repeating that cycle many times while you sleep.
The number of times you stop breathing during an hour determines the severity of your sleep apnea, which is categorized as mild, moderate, and severe.
In severe cases, breathing stops 30 or more times every hour; sometimes as often as one or two times each minute.
When you stop breathing, oxygen levels in your blood drop. Since your brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen, it responds by waking you just enough to start breathing again.
Why do you stop breathing? That happens because the soft tissues in your mouth, particularly your tongue, relax and fall backward over the airway at the back of your throat.
Snoring occurs when the airway is partially blocked; breathing stops when it’s completely blocked.
Health risks of not treating sleep apnea
Most people don’t know they have OSA until someone complains about their loud snoring.
Unfortunately, loud snoring often becomes a joke or something that people ignore, but you should take it seriously because it’s the most common symptom of OSA.
If you ignore the signs and don’t seek treatment, you’re in danger of serious health risks caused by sleep apnea:
High blood pressure
Whether you have mild, moderate, or severe sleep apnea, it increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. Although 17% of all adults have OSA, the prevalence rises to 30% in patients diagnosed with high blood pressure.
There’s also a direct relationship between OSA and resistant hypertension. If you have resistant hypertension, your high blood pressure doesn’t return to normal levels when treated with medications.
Beyond high blood pressure, OSA is a risk factor for a range of heart and blood vessel problems, including an erratic heartbeat (arrhythmia). When you stop breathing, the loss of oxygen and the pressure in your chest trigger a series of events:
- Blood vessels tighten and narrow (constrict)
- Heart rate drops
- Blood flow to your body decreases
When your breathing resumes, blood is suddenly released into blood vessels that were constricted, causing high blood pressure.
As these events occur frequently and repeatedly, they have a long-term effect on your cardiovascular health. For example, OSA is associated with a higher risk of cardiac arrhythmias, heart failure, and even sudden death.
In addition to the physical changes that occur in your cardiovascular system, the drop in oxygen also stimulates the release of chemicals that cause inflammation — the type of inflammation that increases your risk for atherosclerosis.
Attention and memory challenges
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that untreated OSA can affect cognitive abilities such as your attention span and memory. In some cases, your ability to make decisions may suffer due to OSA.
These problems are most likely caused by two problems: disrupted sleep and long-term changes in the brain.
Every time you wake up to start breathing, your sleep cycle is disrupted. Depending on which stage of sleep you’re experiencing, the disruption can affect your brain’s ability to store memories.
Sleep disruption also interferes with getting a restorative sleep, which in turn, makes it hard to pay attention throughout the day.
Long-term changes in your brain may develop as loss of oxygen causes stress and damage from free radicals or because levels of carbon dioxide increase when you stop breathing.
Insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes
Although OSA and diabetes are closely associated, the experts haven’t determined whether OSA directly causes diabetes. However, there are several ways that OSA could contribute to insulin resistance, which subsequently leads to Type 2 diabetes.
For example, low levels of oxygen can trigger the release of hormones that affect blood sugar control. The constant disruption in your sleep cycle may also affect insulin resistance.
OSA is also linked to causing automobile accidents and injuries at work. The team at Glow Orthodontics can provide treatment that helps you address the orthodontic issues contributing to the complications of untreated OSA, so call or book an appointment online.