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Sleep apnea is a dangerous breathing disorder that, left untreated, can lead to severe health complications and cardiovascular risk, heart attack, mental health issues, and even death. However, many people with sleep apnea don’t even realize they have this life-threatening condition. We’re here to help you understand what sleep apnea is, the symptoms you should watch for, the causes and risk factors of sleep apnea, the health risks, and finally, treatments for sleep apnea.
Being aware and informed will help you ensure that you and your loved ones are safe from this potentially devastating health condition.
What Are the Types of Sleep Apnea?
All types of sleep apnea have the same basic impact on the body. When asleep, breathing pauses multiple times per night. This results in decreased oxygen levels which greatly impact your health.
The difference between the types of sleep apnea is found in what causes the episodes. The three types include:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea
- Central Sleep Apnea
- Mixed Sleep Apnea
With Obstructive Sleep Apnea or OSA, apnea episodes occur when the airway is obstructed. Central Sleep Apnea, or CSA, indicates that the cessation of breathing is directly related to a problem with the brain that results in slower, more shallow breathing with extended pauses. While Mixed Sleep Apnea, also known as complex sleep apnea, is a blend of the two other types.
How Common is Sleep Apnea?
OSA is believed to affect up to 9% of adults in the United States. However, a vast number of cases are believed to be undiagnosed. Studies suggest that the actual number of individuals suffering from OSA is far greater. People of all ages can suffer from OSA, but it generally tends to impact adults more frequently.
As far as CSA goes, it is much less common, affecting about 1% of adults in the United States. Typically, people who suffer from CSA tend to be men over the age of 40. However, it does also present in women fairly often.
In general, when you hear people mention that they have sleep apnea, it’s likely that they’re referring to OSA.
What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
All the sleep apnea types share several symptoms. Some of these are only observable by a partner or family member as the person who suffers from OSA, or CSA isn’t always aware. This includes disrupted breathing during sleep. People report that their spouse or family member will have labored breathing, loud snoring with pauses in breathing, or they may even gasp for air from time to time. The sufferer doesn’t typically know they’re experiencing these symptoms as they will sleep through them or forget if they wake.
However, there are many other symptoms of sleep apnea you may see in yourself if you experience one of these sleep disorders. These symptoms include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Headaches in the morning
- Limited attention span
- Difficulty focusing
- Brain fog
- Sore throat and dry mouth in the mornings
- Waking frequently to urinate
- Dry mouth
- Jaw pain from teeth grinding
- Restless leg syndrome
- Daytime sleepiness
The absolute most common symptom is chronic loud snoring. However, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. It’s also typically only a common symptom for OSA rather than CSA.
What are the sleep apnea causes?
There are a number of things that are believed to contribute to severe sleep apnea. Genetic factors and family histories can contribute to the likelihood that you may develop the condition. This includes anatomical characteristics such as the size of a person’s neck and tongue as well as the positioning of their jaw and tonsils. If you have a family history of OSA or CSA, then there’s a good chance you may develop the condition as well, if you haven’t already.
Being overweight is another big risk factor when it comes to OSA. This is because obesity tends to narrow the airway and lead to a greater chance of obstruction. A mere 10% increase in weight has been shown to increase the risk of developing OSA by six-fold. In some cases, diet and exercise can help with weight control but for other individuals, the problem may be genetic.
Other contributing factors include the use of sedatives, alcohol, and cigarettes. Even hormonal conditions such as hypothyroidism and acromegaly are known to contribute to OSA. Even sleeping position plays a part as those who sleep on their back may experience more obstruction occurrences than those who don’t.
CSA is caused by different factors than OSA. This is because the problem is not with obstruction but with the brain’s ability to communicate with the muscles in the body that control breathing. Typically, the brain stem fails to detect dangerous levels of carbon dioxide, which results in slower, more shallow breathing. CSA is more common in people who have underlying medical conditions such as stroke, brain infection, or a brain tumor. Certain medications can also interfere with the relationship between the brain and respiratory muscles.
What Are the Health Risks of Sleep Apnea?
While sleep apnea itself is dangerous, the consequences of suffering from untreated OSA or CSA are far worse. On a day-to-day basis, cessations in breathing during sleep lead directly to sleep deprivation. This poses a threat to those who drive daily or who operate heavy machinery at work. Not only do these conditions cause excessive tiredness, but they also affect your mood, emotions, response time, and much more.
Long term, the health risks can be severe. Ongoing untreated OSA or CSA can lead to problems with your blood pressure, and increase your risk of lung diseases, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, heart failure, and poor sleep health. It can also greatly increase the chance of you suffering from heart disease, heart attack, stroke, or even death. Studies are also showing that the decreased oxygen levels caused by CSA and OSA can impair other bodily organs.
What are the sleep apnea treatments?
As scary as sleep apnea sounds, many of the effects reverse or completely go away with proper treatment. There are a variety of treatments available for those who suffer from OSA and CSA. The most important thing is to consult with your doctor to find out which treatment options are right for you. Keep in mind that the best treatment is one that you will follow through with on a daily basis.
There are a number of lifestyle changes that may reduce or eliminate your OSA, including weight loss, reducing the use of sedatives and alcohol, quitting smoking, and sleeping on your side rather than your back. However, one of the most common treatment options for sleep apnea is the use of a device called a CPAP or continuous positive airway pressure machine. This machine provides a steady flow of oxygen as you sleep.
Unfortunately, many people don’t tolerate CPAP well and turn to other methods. One great way to help reduce or eliminate your sleep apnea is with the use of an oral appliance. This is a mouthpiece that repositions the tongue and jaw in an effort to prevent the obstruction of your airway.
If you think that you or a loved one may be suffering from one of these types of sleep apnea, please reach out to a medical professional. They’ll evaluate the signs and symptoms and decide if a sleep study is necessary. The sleep study will help them evaluate the severity of any sleep apnea symptoms to determine the best course of action.
If you’d like to learn more about untreated sleep apnea, diagnosis and tests, potential treatments for sleep apnea, and oral appliances as a treatment option for sleep apnea, reach out to the kind and caring sleep specialist at Cross Dentistry.
For Sleep Apnea patients only, please download the forms below, fill them out, and email them back to Dr. Cross at firstname.lastname@example.org :
How do I Correct It?
Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to preventing this common condition from impacting your long-term overall health. At the Frederick, MD dental practice of Jeffrey Cross, DDS, FAGD we have extensive experience in correcting sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. Our approach to alleviating this widely prevalent and commonly undiagnosed condition is to begin with a comprehensive physical exam. During this assessment, Dr. Cross looks for a number of potential sleep apnea risk factors, such as the patient’s age and weight, anatomy of the back of the throat, and the presence of fat pads around their neck.
Patients then undergo a sleep study at home, using specialized equipment that monitors and records their breathing patterns while sleeping. The results are then evaluated by a specially trained sleep physician to determine whether or not you exhibit signs of sleep apnea. If a diagnosis of sleep apnea is made, Dr. Cross will then recommend the use of a corrective oral appliance that the patient wears while sleeping. Of course, the recommendation for this appliance is determined by many factors related to the patient’s overall health which could impact their likelihood of being a suitable candidate for this corrective measure.
Just a couple of the considerations made with regard to recommending an oral appliance for sleep apnea include whether the patient has enough stable teeth to support the appliance and no problems with the jaw joint. Our Frederick, MD practice is able to provide sleep apnea patients with corrective appliances in as little as three weeks from the date of diagnosis. We make sure that the device fits properly and that patients are confident about the proper use of the device.
Contact Us Today
If your sleeping partner has been complaining about your snoring, or if you have noticed that you are especially tired it may be that you are one of the millions of Americans who are impacted by this disorder. If so, make an appointment with Jeffrey Cross, DDS, FAGD at our Frederick office for a sleep assessment today.
Sleep Apnea Frequently Asked Questions
While there are hundreds of different mask options, there are three main types of sleep apnea machines. There’s the previously mentioned CPAP or continuous positive airway pressure machine. This machine uses a constant flow of air pressure throughout the night. When the wearer exhales, they are exhaling against the incoming pressure.
An APAP machine is an automatic positive airway pressure machine. These are automated to work within a pre-set range. They adjust throughout the night to fit your pressure needs breath by breath.
A BiPAP is a bi-level positive airway pressure machine. It offers two levels of airway pressure, one for inhalation and the other for exhalation. These are often used for those who have severe OSA.
If you suffer from high blood pressure as a result of OSA then treating your OSA can effectively lower your blood pressure. However, if there is another cause for your high blood pressure then OSA treatment may not help as much as you had hoped.
CPAP therapy or the use of oral devices to treat OSA does tend to have very positive results for reducing, eliminating, and even reversing the challenges associated with OSA.
A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine works by maintaining a gentle flow of air delivered to the patient through a hose connected to a mask that fits over the nose or both the mouth and nose. This airflow helps prevent the upper airway and soft palate from collapsing. A CPAP machine needs electricity to operate. Some models can also be quite noisy. In addition, many people feel as though the mask is uncomfortable and that being connected to a machine at night causes problems for the patient and their bed partner.
When you go in for a sleep study, you’ll be fitted with various sensors to measure and record your breathing and other functions. The type of sleep study used to diagnose sleep apnea is called a polysomnography. When you go in for your polysomnogram in the sleep laboratory, a technologist will attach medical equipment and sensors to your head and body. These sensors measure chest movement, breathing rate, any sign of abnormal heart rhythm, and more. They may also test your blood oxygen levels with pulse oximetry, and movement throughout the rest of your body using an electromyogram.
Sleep medicine analyzes all of the information to determine if you suffer from a sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Sleep apnea is diagnosed in children much in the same way that it is diagnosed in adults: with sleep studies. However, in many cases, rather than treating children using a CPAP device, the sleep disorder is addressed through surgery. It’s not uncommon for children suffering from OSA to undergo an adenotonsillectomy. However, some children grow out of their sleep apnea and surgical procedures are not necessary. It’s best if you speak with your child’s medical provider to understand all of the options and their effects before deciding what is best for your child.
If you suffer from extreme daytime drowsiness despite the fact that you believe you should be getting enough rest, or if you or your partner are concerned that you may have sleep apnea then it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor about undergoing a sleep study. Even if you don’t have OSA there may be another underlying sleep disorder contributing to your symptoms.
Hypopneas occur when a person takes shallow breaths for ten seconds or longer during sleep. This happens when the airway is partially blocked and results in airflows of 30% or less.
Apneas and hypopneas are measured using the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) which measures the number of apneas and hypopneas that occur per hour. The greater the number, the worse the sleep breathing disorder.
The most widely used oral appliance for treating sleep apnea is a mandibular advancement device (MAD). This helps reposition the lower jaw to keep an open airway throughout the night.
Another option is a tongue restraining device. This is a splint that holds the tongue in place to prevent airway collapse.
A sleep specialist dentist will examine your case to determine which type of sleep apnea appliance would work best for your sleep apnea treatment.
A nasal pillow is a type of mask used for treating sleep apnea syndrome that fits across your nostrils. It inserts directly into your nostrils and is less cumbersome than larger masks but may or may not be more comfortable depending on your tolerances.
Custom dental devices are a great way to treat OSA for patients who do not tolerate CPAP therapy. A dentist trained and experienced in sleep medicine can help you get a dental appliance that will support the soft tissues and reposition your jaw to help prevent airway collapse.