Do you find yourself tired in the middle of the day, with no explanation? Do you wake up breathless in the middle of the night? Does your family complain of loud snoring? These are all symptoms of a potentially serious condition known as sleep apnea that affects more than 12 million Americans.
What is sleep apnea?
Patients who suffer from sleep apnea experience stoppages in breathing during their sleep, often as many as 20-30 times in an hour. Every time breathing stops, the lack of oxygen alerts the brain, which then temporarily wakes the patient in order for proper breathing to be restarted.
The time spent awake is so short that patients often don’t even remember it. Patients may think they are getting a good night’s sleep, when in fact these quick waking moments are preventing them from ever achieving a true, deep sleep. This will then result in a drowsy feeling throughout the day.
What are the signs of sleep apnea?
If you think you or a loved one may have sleep apnea, there are several signs you can look for. If you experience one or more of the following, please contact our office right away for a sleep apnea evaluation.
- Difficulty sleeping
- Excessively loud snoring
- Waking to feel short of breath
- Choking or gasping sounds while sleeping
- Waking up with headaches
- Drifting to sleep during the day
- Daytime drowsiness
What are the types of sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea can fall into one of three categories. The most common is obstructive sleep apnea. OSA is often caused due to a physical blockage that stops breathing. This can happen when the soft tissues in the back of the mouth collapse. For patients who suffer from central sleep apnea, breathing stops due to muscles failing to receive the proper signals from the brain. Even less common is mixed or complex sleep apnea, which is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
What are risk factors for sleep apnea?
OSA occurs more often in men that women, and to people over the age of 40. It is is important to note, however, that anyone can suffer from sleep apnea - age and gender are not the only risk factors. Other factors that can contribute to a higher risk of OSA are obesity, tobacco use, alcohol use, the use of sedatives or tranquilizers, and family history. Central sleep apnea occurs most commonly in people who have heart or neuromuscular disorders, strokes, or brain tumors.
Is sleep apnea dangerous?
Sleep apnea can be a dangerous condition, and if left untreated can lead to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart failure and stroke. Sleep apnea causes a state of fatigue due to restless sleep at night. This can pose a problem for apnea patients during work or school, especially if the patient drives or operates heavy machinery. If you have sleep apnea, you are also more likely to experience complications when taking medications or undergoing surgery. Sedation by anesthesia can be more complicated for sleep apnea patients, and lying flat on the back during and after an operation can pose a risk. If you think you may have sleep apnea, it is important to let your doctor know before taking any medication or scheduling a surgery.
How is sleep apnea treated?
Sleep apnea treatment is dependent on the severity of the patient’s case, as well as the type of apnea. Basic treatment begins with behavioral changes, such as losing weight, quitting smoking, or encouraging patients to sleep in a different position that doesn’t include sleeping on their back. More intensive treatment can include oral devices that can position the mouth to prevent throat blockage. For severe apnea cases, surgery may be the best solution to provide relief.
What should I do if I suspect that someone in my family suffers from sleep apnea?
If you believe you or someone in your family may suffer from sleep apnea, it is important to be examined by a sleep apnea specialist. A specialist can perform a sleep study to diagnose the condition and prescribe the appropriate treatment. Wired Orthodontics can refer you to a specialist, and depending on your diagnosis and treatment plan, we can work with you and your specialist to create an oral device to help you sleep.