Do you or your spouse snore excessively? Do you exhibit signs of slow wakefulness, the inability to concentrate during daytime hours, or morning headaches and pains? If so, you may have sleep apnea—a treatable condition that, when untreated, can have serious consequences.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition best described as a chronic interruption of normal sleep patterns by restrictions to a sleeper’s airflow. With obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common form of the condition, soft tissues in the mouth and throat block airflow, so breathing stops for periods of 10-20 seconds or more. These cessations in breathing may occur hundreds of times each night.
Because breathing is inhibited, a person with obstructive sleep apnea does not have sufficient oxygen in the blood. When the brain recognizes the problem, the person wakes. Sometimes, waking might not bring full consciousness, while other times, the person is racked with gasping spasms or choking fits. Deep, refreshing REM sleep is never sufficiently achieved.
Causes & Risks
While experts remain at a loss for one exclusive cause of sleep apnea, many researchers are divided over whether the cause is more attributable to lifestyle or biological factors, with some favoring a more critical role for genetics and others citing issues such as dietary and sleeping habits.
Generally, patients are considered to be at higher risk for sleep apnea if they are overweight, belong to the male gender, or sleep poorly. Sleep apnea sufferers who are overweight are more likely to develop bulky throat tissues that obstruct the airway during sleep. Less controllable factors for the condition may include largeness or smallness of the chin, neck, septum, or tonsils, all of which may take responsibility for creating severe nasal congestion and airway obstruction.
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People with undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea may develop considerable risks later on in life. Studies have shown that sufferers of sleep apnea have a higher susceptibility to brain-related illnesses, heart disease, and neurological disorders, among other physical problems. In ways relevant to our area of expertise, sleep apnea may encourage oral health complications from bruxism, or teeth grinding.
Symptoms & Effects
Since sleep apnea may affect adults in many ways, it is important to distinguish it from other medical conditions, like insomnia.
Some symptoms that may catch the attention of our team members and sleep specialists include:
- Loud, inconsistent snoring
- Complaints from bed partner about interruptions in nighttime breathing that last several seconds
- Waking while gasping, choking, snorting, or coughing
- Dryness or soreness of the mouth or throat
- Waking up with headaches
Sleep apnea may manifest in various forms, including daytime restlessness, memory loss and genuine forgetfulness, and symptoms related to insomnia. Depression is sometimes a side effect of sleep apnea and may present itself with a loss of interest in usually enjoyable activities, general irritability, and an increased need for sleep. Low energy, falling asleep at work, impotence, and poor sex drive are all side effects of sleep deprivation and obstructive sleep apnea.
Treatment plans vary for sleep apnea and sleep-related problems. One of our qualified team members or a sleep specialist may recommend simple changes, such as with dietary habits, or options like sleeping apparatuses or surgery.
For some patients, resolving sleep-related problems may simply require exercising more, losing weight, or adopting a more nutritious diet. Others may suffer from related social and behavioral issues, including depression, which could require measures outside of those currently under consideration.
Many sleep disorder specialists advise their patients to purchase or rent machines that will unblock the airway during nighttime rest and promote easier breathing. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure devices feature an air compressor, air tube, and facemask. A sleep apnea patient wears the mask while sleeping, and the compressor emits constant air pressure into the nose to keep soft tissues from collapsing. Some people are CPAP intolerant. Complaints include a feeling of claustrophobia, ill-fitting masks, inability to sleep due to the compressor noise, and discomfort from having to sleep in one position.
The least invasive of treatment options, a sleep guard or sleep appliance holds the lower jaw slightly forward during sleep. This jaw position keeps soft tissues from collapsing and blocking airflow. Many models and brands of sleep guards exist, and Dr. Chin can determine which is best for you. Sleep guards address obstructive sleep apnea, as well as snoring. They also make a convenient travel alternative to CPAP.
Parents may opt for another treatment plan that involves surgery. Although more invasive, these procedures can remove obstructions, such as by widening narrow airways and relieving mucous membranes. It may result in permanent relief for children who chronically suffer from sleep apnea.
Our Sleep Apnea Solution
We offer non-surgical, minimally invasive sleep apnea and snoring treatment with oral appliances known as sleep guards. These simple appliances hold the lower jaw slightly forward, so soft oral tissues cannot block airflow. Sleep guards are often a great alternative to CPAP, as well.
A member of our team is here to speak to you at your convenience, answer your questions, and schedule your next appointment.