Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that occurs when your patient has a partially or completely blocked upper airway during sleep. OSA affects over 12 million people in the U.S. alone.
OSA causes your patient’s chest muscles and diaphragm to work harder to open up their obstructed airway to draw air into their lungs. When their breathing resumes, it's usually followed by a loud snort, gasp or body jerk. And, although your patient isn't sleeping well, they're probably not even aware that this is happening to them — unless their partner or spouse tells them or they’ve had a sleep test that diagnosed them with the condition.
With OSA, your patient's tongue will fall back against their soft palate leading to their uvula and soft palate falling back against the back of their throat. This closes their airway, and when they go to expand their chest to inhale, they don't get air in their lungs.
OSA seems to occur more in patients who are middle-aged, overweight, and sleep on their back. It seems to affect more males than females, although it's seen in both genders of all body types, ages, and favored sleep positions.
Many researchers speculate that the involuntary failings that lead to obstructive sleep apnea initially are neurological. They believe the brain gives off inadequate or improper signals that lead to throat and tongue muscle flaccidity.
Regardless of the cause, if OSA isn't treated, it can become a serious issue. Often, it can lead to debilitating symptoms, such as morning headaches, excessive daytime sleepiness, and an overall sense of unwellness and depression. And, overtime, life-shortening and life-threatening diseases may arise such as:
It's this outcome that makes OSA diagnosis and treatment crucial for your patients.