What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is a common sleep disorder that is often overlooked. Millions of Americans suffer from it, but many people don’t even know they have it. Although relatively harmless in most cases, it can lead to serious health risks if left untreated. At New Smiles, we team with medical professionals to diagnose, treat, helping you sleep like a baby once again.
Sleep Apnea Diagnosis
Sleep apnea is characterized by sudden, interrupted breathing during sleep. This happens repeatedly as the person sleeps, sometimes occurring hundreds of times in a night. Common symptoms include:
- Waking up with a very sore or dry throat
- Loud snoring
- Occasionally waking up with a choking or gasping sensation
- Sleepiness or lack of energy during the day
- Sleepiness while driving
- Morning headaches
- Restless sleep
- Forgetfulness, mood changes, and decreased interest in sex
- Recurrent awakenings
Sleep Apnea Causes
Some people think that snoring is sleep apnea, but it’s not. Snoring occurs when there is resistance to airflow during sleep. Sleep apnea involves a more pronounced blockage.
There are various causes for sleep apnea:
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
- Cardiovascular problems
- Throat and tongue muscles that are abnormally relaxed
- Nasal congestion
- Family history
- Lack of brain signals to the breathing muscles
Types of Sleep Apnea
With obstructive sleep apnea, the muscles in the back of the throat relax. These muscles support all of the surrounding tissues such as the tonsils and the side walls of the throat. When these muscles relax, the airway narrows or closes. The brain senses this and briefly jolts you awake to open the airway. These interruptions of your sleep can be so brief that you have no recollection of them. You may snort, choke, or make a gasping sound, and you may do it up to 30 times…per hour, all night!
In central sleep apnea, your brain doesn’t tell your breathing muscles to do their job. Your body awakens with a shortness of breath, or it may not allow you to get to sleep in the first place.
What Happens if Sleep Apnea is Left Untreated?
Sure, you can manage drowsiness during the day, although it affects your productivity and increase the chances you’ll fall asleep while driving. But moderate to severe sleep apnea is much more than being a little sleep deprived — it can be life-threatening. As you stop breathing when asleep, the oxygen level in your body decreases and carbon dioxide builds up. This high concentration of carbon dioxide is detected by chemoreceptors in the bloodstream. These receptors alert the brain, which then wakes you up to get some oxygen. When this happens your heart rate speeds up dramatically, placing a tremendous load on your heart, and increasing your chances of a heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
There can be simple treatments for mild forms of sleep apnea. At New Smiles, we may help train patients to simply sleep on their sides. We may advocate removal of the tonsils. Treatment can be as simple as losing weight, cutting back on alcohol consumption at night, or quitting smoking. But moderate to severe cases demand more involved intervention.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a breathing system that uses air pressure to keep the upper airway passages open. The patient wears a mask over his or her nose during sleep. The mask creates air pressure that is somewhat greater than the air pressure in the bedroom, and this difference in pressure keeps the airway open. The problem with CPAP, however, is that some people find it difficult to sleep with the tubes and mask. This can lead to a low compliance rate.
An alternative to CPAP is oral appliance therapy (OAT). The OAT appliance is similar to a sports mouth guard or an orthodontic retainer. The appliance supports the jaw in a forward position to help maintain an open upper airway. At New Smiles, we have extensive experience with the various oral appliances (there are over 100 FDA-approved options), and will work with you to create or find the right one.