Difference between Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome and Sleep Apnea

Categories: Sleep Disorders

uars and sleep apneaSanta Cruz, Scotts Valley CA

Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious and well-known sleep breathing disorder that is estimated to affect more than 20 million Americans, with many of those cases going undiagnosed and untreated. Another, lesser prominent sleep breathing disorder is upper airway resistance syndrome (or UARS, for short). Though less serious than sleep apnea, UARS still can disrupt your rest and your lifestyle. Read on to learn how to distinguish upper airway resistance syndrome from sleep apnea, and how your sleep apnea dentists in Los Gatos at Ebrahimian Integrative Dentistry can help identify and treat UARS.

What is upper airway resistance syndrome?

UARS refers to the condition where there is resistance that impedes breathing in the upper airway, although not enough resistance for breathing to cease altogether. Much like many cases of sleep apnea, UARS often is caused by problems with soft tissues such as the tongue, nasal cavity, soft palate, uvula, and pharynx affecting the airway. Often, a person with upper airway resistance syndrome already has a narrowed airway due to the way their face and jaws have developed. When a person with UARS sleeps, this already narrow airway diminishes even more in size, creating the restriction that impedes airflow. 

This decreased airflow eventually causes oxygen levels in the blood to drop low enough that the brain recognizes it, and then sends signals to the body producing a brief state of arousal or awakening so that respiratory effort is made and regular breathing is restored. A person with UARS may never consciously wake up from sleep, but these brief states of arousal are enough to disrupt your regular sleep pattern, bringing you out of the deeper stages of sleep and forcing the sleep cycle to start all over again. These periods of arousal are referred to clinically as Respiratory Effort-Related Arousals (or RERAs).

UARS can be difficult to diagnose by most physicians

Sleep apnea has tell-tale warning signs, such as loud snoring, restless sleeping, and noticeable fatigue during the day. Children with sleep apnea often manifest symptoms of a hyperactivity disorder like ADD or ADHD. A person with upper airway resistance syndrome may not snore at all, making it difficult for your sleeping partner or family members to notice a problem. Many times, a person with UARS never is aware they are suffering from this sleep breathing disorder.

That’s where a medical professional with experience in sleep-disordered breathing and airway health can be so beneficial. At Ebrahimian Integrative Dentistry, Drs. Max and Ariana Ebrahimian both possess the training to identify problems with the airway. Our Scotts Valley dentists can detect a sleep breathing disorder by examining the results of a polysomnography, also referred to commonly as a sleep study. Ebrahimian Integrative Dentistry can provide you with an at-home sleep study using a small, non-invasive, and convenient device that can be worn comfortably while sleeping in your own bed.

A patient with UARS will not experience enough arousals from sleep or the requisite lowered oxygen levels to identify as a possible sleep apnea patient. However, upper airway resistance syndrome shows enough arousals to indicate a problem. Common symptoms of UARS include frequent headaches (especially first thing in the morning), digestive problems, chronic issues with nasal congestion, teeth grinding, or problems focusing.

Once UARS has been identified, Ebrahimian Integrative Dentistry prefers to treat the disorder through a course of myofunctional therapy. This involves prescribing a series of simple exercises that work the musculature and soft tissues of the orofacial system, helping to strengthen the muscles of the tongue and mouth to encourage proper rest oral posture and prevent the collapses of soft tissue in the upper airway. We also may prescribe an oral appliance, which fits in your mouth just like a night guard. This oral appliance guides the lower jaw forward through gentle pressure, helping your airway remain free and clear throughout the night.

Lifestyle changes such as weight loss, improving your diet, and reducing or eliminating the use of alcohol also can benefit a person with UARS.

To learn more about how Ebrahimian Integrative Dentistry can identify and treat a sleep breathing disorder, call our office at (831) 438-4411 to schedule a consultation.

Ebrahimian Integrative Dentistry serves patients in Los Gatos, Santa Cruz, and Scotts Valley, California.