Obstructive sleep apnea: symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Snoring not only keeps you up at night – it can be dangerous to your health. When muscles relax during sleep, the upper airway can become partially blocked and cause snoring. Loud and frequent snoring is a common warning sign for obstructive sleep apnea, which is a serious sleep illness. According to the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, at least 12-18 million adults in the U.S. have obstructive sleep apnea, which causes them to stop breathing up to hundreds of times a night for anywhere from a few seconds to more than a minute.

Sleep apnea patients now have several available treatment options – including one from a dentist. Dental sleep medicine is a growing segment of dentistry that focuses on managing obstructive sleep apnea with oral appliance therapy – an effective alternative to the traditionally prescribed continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine and mask.


Cartoon with check mark

  • recognize signs and symptoms
  • make positive lifestyle changes
  • consult a sleep physician
  • educate yourself about treatment options

Cartoon with x mark

  • ignore the snore
  • smoke cigarettes
  • be inconsistent with sleep apnea treatment
  • forget to schedule check ups

[publishpress_authors_data]'s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do recognize signs and symptoms

Sleep apnea is most common in people who are obese, and men have a higher risk than women. But men and women of any age or body type can have sleep apnea. Listed below are some common signs of sleep apnea:

  • Waking from sleep with a choking sound or gasping for breath
  • Loud snoring
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia

Do make positive lifestyle changes

For those suffering from snoring and sleep apnea, proper medical treatment is necessary; however, certain behavioral changes also can help improve the quality of your sleep. Because sleeping on your back can decrease the area of your upper airway, try sleeping on your side to help prevent snoring. Being overweight puts you at a higher risk for sleep apnea. Exercise regularly and eat healthy meals to maintain a healthy body weight, which will help alleviate the possibility of developing sleep apnea or worsening its symptoms.

Do consult a sleep physician

If you think you may have sleep apnea, schedule an appointment with a board-certified sleep physician. A physician will conduct an overnight sleep test to properly diagnose snoring or obstructive sleep apnea. Once diagnosed, work with your doctor to determine your best treatment options.

Do educate yourself about treatment options

There are several options available to help treat sleep apnea. CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure therapy, is the recommended treatment, but up to half of sleep apnea patients don’t comply with or can’t tolerate CPAP. Dentists experienced in dental sleep medicine work in conjunction with sleep physicians to treat sleep apnea with oral appliance therapy (OAT), an effective and comfortable alternative to CPAP. An oral appliance is a custom-fitted mouth guard-like device that you wear during sleep to maintain an open, unobstructed airway. Many patients prefer it as a solution for living with sleep apnea. If you’re losing shuteye to snoring or sleep apnea, find a dentist near you who offers oral appliance therapy.

[publishpress_authors_data]'s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not ignore the snore

Your mind, body and overall health suffer from poor quality sleep, so it’s important to determine the cause of your snoring and take action. Of the 12-18 million Americans suffering from sleep apnea, 80 to 90 percent remain undiagnosed and untreated, according to the AADSM. If left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially life threatening condition that can increase the risk for serious health problems from congestive heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure and heart disease to diabetes, obesity, depression and impotence.

Do not smoke cigarettes

Cigarette smoking irritates and inflames your upper airway, increasing your risk of developing sleep apnea and worsening your symptoms if you have sleep apnea. Learn about the available options, such as support groups and nicotine replacement therapy, to help you quit smoking and put sleep problems to bed.

Do not be inconsistent with sleep apnea treatment

Only by wearing your CPAP mask or oral appliance will you reap the health benefits. Remember to wear it every night so you can wake up feeling refreshed. For many, oral appliances are more comfortable to wear than a CPAP mask. The devices are also quiet and easy to care for. When traveling, don’t leave it at home. While a CPAP machine and mask can be cumbersome, portable oral appliances can help lessen your load.

Do not forget to schedule check ups

An important thing to remember is that effective oral appliances are always custom fit by a dentist and may need adjustments over time to ensure maximum effectiveness. Be sure to visit your dentist on a regular basis to discuss any dental problems that might occur and have your oral appliance refitted if necessary.


For those who have never consulted a dentist about treatments for snoring and sleep apnea, it may be time to make an appointment. Dentists trained in dental sleep medicine work in conjunction with sleep physicians and recommend a specific oral appliance based on a patient’s personal needs. As an effective alternative to the standard CPAP machine and mask, oral appliance therapy offers a higher compliance rate among patients and is quiet, portable, and easy to care for.

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