What Happens to Your Body with Untreated OSA?
Untreated OSA creates short-term and long-term health issues that can degrade a person’s quality of life. In some cases, untreated obstructive sleep apnea may potentially incapacitate affected individuals.
People who have untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may begin to experience health issues like high blood pressure, heart problems, and diabetes at an earlier age. Additionally, if sleep apnea goes ignored, they may also experience cognitive problems like poor concentration and memory loss or early-onset dementia at younger ages than is typical.
Short-Term Effects of OSA
A multitude of symptoms are associated with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Short-term effects experienced by people with untreated OSA include excessive daytime sleepiness, headaches, interrupted sleep, reduced deep sleep, poor sleep quality, fatigue, and lack of concentration.
If obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is left untreated, short-term symptoms can lead to chronic long-term issues.
Long-Term Effects of OSA
When left untreated, OSA begins to impact overall health in ways that become long-term issues. Untreated sleep apnea can be a precursor to several chronic and/or debilitating health conditions such as:
- Adult asthma: sleep apnea can increase your risk of asthma complications and worsen your symptoms.
- Heart problems: OSA has been linked to cardiovascular disease, irregular heart rhythm, heart failure, and stroke.
- High blood pressure (hypertension): sleep apnea can increase your risk for high blood pressure overall and your chance of developing it at a younger age.
- High blood sugar: sleep apnea increases the likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes, and if you already have Type 2 diabetes, loss of sleep from sleep apnea can make it worse.
- Liver problems: sleep apnea has been linked to higher-than-average liver enzymes and fatty liver disease.
- Low blood oxygen levels: over time, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can deprive your body of essential oxygen, which can affect the health of your body tissue and organ tissue.
- Mental health issues: untreated sleep apnea can lead to anxiety and depression or worsen these conditions if you already have them; it can also cause mental confusion, poor concentration, memory loss, dementia, and other cognitive challenges.
- Weakened immune system: deprivation of sleep and poor sleep quality from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can weaken your immune system and leave you more susceptible to infections and illnesses as well as extend the amount of time it takes to heal.
A timely diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and the appropriate treatment of sleep apnea may help manage these chronic conditions as well as other conditions that have been connected to sleep apnea like chronic insomnia, sexual dysfunction, metabolic syndrome, vision impairment, and chronic kidney disease.
How Sleep Apnea Affects Aging
When obstructive sleep apnea is left untreated, it also accelerates your biological aging process. Biological aging is the cell breakdown process that eventually leads to muscle weakness, issues with cognitive functions, and other health problems common in older age.
Sleep apnea may also accelerate the aging process. Consistent and chronic deprivation of sleep will begin to deteriorate your body the same way that aging does.
Sleep Apnea Treatment Can Slow Premature Aging
While sleep apnea can affect aging in negative ways, consistently following an appropriate treatment plan can slow premature aging or potentially reverse the trend created by untreated sleep apnea.
When patients are compliant with OSA treatments, the sleep apnea treatments will restore good nighttime oxygenation and minimize the number of their sleep disruptions, which, in turn, will promote sleep that is restful and of good quality.
OSA Treatment That Works for You
There are several treatment options for OSA, and you and your doctor will work together to find the best treatment that works for you. Treatment plans may include lifestyle changes like avoiding alcohol and sedative medications before bedtime, frequent and/or increased physical exercise, and weight loss when indicated. Other nonsurgical treatment options include oropharyngeal exercises, positional therapy, the use of oral appliances, nasal resistors, and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines.
Compliance with your sleep apnea treatment plan is important to effectively manage obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and its associated symptoms. However, many people who try CPAP therapy may have difficulties being compliant since they struggle with using the machine, cannot tolerate the mask or the noise, or have issues with the inconvenience of traveling with a CPAP machine.
If you have been diagnosed with mild or moderate sleep apnea, FDA-registered oral appliances are available as a treatment option. A qualified dentist trained in dental sleep medicine will choose the right oral appliance for you based on a number of factors such as mouth size and degree of snoring. These appliances are comfortable and relatively non-intrusive. Many people find they make it easier to be compliant with their sleep apnea treatment so they can begin effectively treating symptoms attributed to the link between sleep apnea and aging.