Tired? Sleep Apnea Now Recognized in Thin Women

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By Georgia Tetlow, MD and Jill Maddock

Sleep is one of our most important self care regimens. Did you know that the health of your airway can disrupt the quality of your sleep? Poor airway health is now being recognized as a root cause for many chronic ailments. The American Dental Association’s policy on dentistry’s role in sleep related breathing disorders was recently approved.  Poor airway health affects all age groups from infants to adults. Children and infants are more susceptible to the negative effects of poor sleep as their brains develop. While obese older men are most likely at risk, this can also be present in young adults, teens and particularly slender women with smaller airways. This can leave you with constantly low levels of energy, memory problems and difficulty concentrating. For more insight on addressing root causes of cognitive impairment like this, join PIM on 1/24 for Prime Cognition: Optimize Your Brain Health.

What are the signs?

Early warning signs of poor airway include anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, and snoring. Behavioral signs (more likely in children) include problems with peers, rule breaking, aggression and misconduct. Evidence also shows the certain facial features can increase the risk such as a narrow and retruded jaw or a long face. In adults, poor airway health can lead to cardiovascular, metabolic, respiratory, dental and other disease. Other diagnoses include Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS)- a form of OSA. OSA can cause the body’s oxygen level to decrease and result in sleep that is non-restorative and overall disruptive to one’s health. UARS is a condition discovered 25 years ago wherein part of one’s airway is more narrow than it should be and they get less air than needed. While this is not dangerous and more subtle than OSA, the body perceives danger and can wake you up. The diagnosis of UARS is tricky and research is still being conducted due to the fact that it is underdiagnosed. It is estimated that 18 million Americans have a form of Apnea. As mentioned above, most diagnosis of apnea occurs in older, obese men, slender and petite women are at higher risk for UARS due to a smaller build and more narrow airway - especially during relaxation or sleep.

The Treatment

Luckily, there are several ways of treating poor airway health to reduce its negative effects. Therapy to resolve one’s sleeping position is one - side sleeping is preferred. The use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (or CPAP) machine is helpful to maintain an open airway during sleep. Oral appliances such as an expander or retainer (we recommend one that is antimicrobial) that can be fabricated by a Dentist that participates in the Foundation of Airway Health or FAH. Nasal strips, sprays or plugs can also be recommended to open the passages. And lastly, you can opt to work with an ENT for evaluation and surgical correction if necessary.

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