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With obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a person’s airway collapses or is blocked while he or she sleeps, which causes loud snoring and pauses in breathing for up to 10 seconds. It’s important to address: A recent study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that people with severe sleep apnea are nearly twice as likely to die of any cause. Significant cases of OSA are often treated with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. However, “people often don’t like the straps that hold the CPAP mask on or they feel claustrophobic wearing it,” says Dr. Robert L. Merrill, director of the orofacial pain program at UCLA.
Another effective but underused choice is a dental device similar to a sports mouth guard, says Dr. Matthew Edlund, director of the Center for Circadian Medicine in Sarasota, Fla. It pulls the jaw and tongue forward to allow more air to get through. It is often better tolerated and more comfortable than a CPAP mask, adds Merrill. He suggests discussing treatment options with a sleep specialist who can refer you to a dentist for a dental device, if warranted.
Stacey Colino is a freelance writer specializing in health and psychological issues. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post health section and in such national magazines as Newsweek, Real Simple, Woman’s Day and Prevention.
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