Breathing is something you don’t think about a lot until it’s hard to do. This is especially true if you or a loved one – especially a loved one you share a bedroom with – has airway issues.
But enduring the rattle of someone snoring next to you – or being regularly startled awake through the night as you gasp for breath yourself, only to wake up exhausted – is more than just a nuisance. These could be signs of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a serious health risk linked to stroke, heart attack, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, lowered immunity, anxiety, depression,and more.
With millions of adults suffering from OSA, lots of research has been done to examine causes and find solutions. Just this month, a new study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine suggests that excess tongue fat could be a culprit.
Scientists used MRI imaging to measure the tongues and upper airways of 67 obese patients from the Penn Center for Sleep Disorders, the University of Pennsylvania’s Bariatric Surgery Program, or the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders. Some had sleep apnea; others didn’t. Patients were measured again after losing about 10% of their total body weight.
The researchers found that reduced tongue fat “was the main reason why the overall sleep apnea scores improved by 31%.”
Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a sleep specialist at Keck Medicine at the University of Southern California said that this study shows reducing excess fat, in general, can help reduce your tongue size.
Though excess weight has long been known as a major risk factor for OSA, it’s hardly the only cause. One can still be at a healthy weight and experience sleep apnea or other issues caused by the root cause of sleep disordered breathing: an underdeveloped or pinched airway.
This is why we ask you about your snoring and sleep patterns. Sleep is a crucial part of your oral and overall health, physical and mental. If your sleep is disordered, chances are good that other things are, too.
Plus, who better to assess your airway, hear your challenges over mouth breathing, and discuss what kinds of therapies, appliances, or treatments may help? Diagnosis is easier than ever now, thanks to portable, wireless, take-home sleep monitors, in conjunction with CBCT and cephalometric imaging.
Depending on the cause of your apnea, you may benefit from a custom fit appliance that works to actually remodel the airway, making it easier to breathe freely and consistently during sleep.
Another option is Nightlase, a laser treatment that widens the airway by tightening the soft tissues at the top, renaturing and restructuring collagen. Just three short appointments over the course of several weeks is often enough to last a year.
Treating your airway issues is especially important if you face the double challenge of OSA and excess weight or obesity, like the patients in the study. With the two conditions so closely linked, we can also work with you to create a holistic – and realistic – plan for healthy eating and activity.
Chances are, once you’re breathing better and sleeping better, you might find all aspects of holistic living not just manageable but truly enjoyable, awake and asleep!