Learn about the causes, diagnosis, and treatment options available for an obstructed airway


In case you start experiencing symptoms like snoring at night or daytime sleepiness, the dental sleep specialist may carry out some assessments to determine if there is an obstruction to your airway. Obstructed airways usually prevent you from having enough sleep and significantly decrease your quality of life. Therefore, Dr. Barry Chase, together with other specialists, identifies the cause of obstructed airway and manages it appropriately.

What is airway obstruction?

Airway obstruction refers to a blockage that prevents one from breathing correctly and comfortably. Some airway obstructions usually develop over time, while others are typically sudden and severe because they occur when one swallows a foreign object and ends up affecting your quality of life. Chronic airway obstruction is one of the conditions that can alter your sleep health, resulting in various sleep disorders. Some of the most common sleep-disordered breathing conditions are as follows:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OAS)

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that occurs when the muscles of your throat relax too much, making them narrow and causing irregularities in your breathing patterns. Some of the sleep apnea symptoms may include waking up abruptly, morning headaches, waking up gasping, excessive daytime sleepiness, and waking up out of breath. Snoring is also one of the common signs of an obstructed airway. Obstructive sleep apnea is also associated with a greater risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.

Therefore if you begin to experience some symptoms or alterations in your sleeping patterns, you are encouraged to seek medical care to receive an evaluation of your condition. The health care provider performs a dental airway assessment to identify abnormalities and blockages in the airway.

  • Upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS)

URAS is also similar to OAS in that it is also caused by airway obstruction. Patients with UARS usually experience breathing resistance when they are asleep, while those with OAS usually experience sleep apnea and stop breathing for short periods. However, the patient with UARS also presents with snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness.

What causes airway obstruction?

Several factors contribute to airway obstruction, including the narrow arch, allergies, obesity or excess body weight, enlarged tonsils, naturally narrow airways, deviated septum, scalloped or enlarged tongue, the position of the tongue, and position of the teeth. An obstructed airway can also cause serious complications like increased stress on the cardiovascular system and high blood pressure.

How is airway obstruction diagnosed?

Your specialist usually performs a dental airway assessment to enable them to diagnose your condition. During the evaluation, the health care provider performs a physical examination of the structures found at the back of your throat. It is used to determine your Mallampati score, which is a preliminary indicator of an obstructed airway. If your Mallampati score is raising the alarm, the dentist may refer you to in-lab polysomnography or a home sleep test.

How are obstructed airways treated?

The treatment options available are epigenetics, continuous positive airway pressure, positional therapy, and custom oral appliance. Your dentist also works closely with you to come up with a comprehensive treatment plan depending on the underlying cause of your condition.

If you are having difficulty getting enough sleep and you are interested in knowing the treatment option that is right for you, call or visit Chase Dental Sleepcare today.