Why Treating Sleep Apnea is so Important
Does this sound familiar? You’re fast asleep, and you’re suddenly awakened by the sound of a freight train. But hold on; it’s just your partner snoring. Or maybe you’re on the receiving end of a not so gentle nudge to stop your snoring. The thing is sometimes snoring may be more than just annoying. Snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea.
If you or a loved one has sleep apnea, you probably already know it can interfere with getting a good night’s sleep. Sleep apnea leads to poor quality sleep because it causes frequent pauses in breathing overnight. Although the pauses are brief and usually only last a few seconds, they can occur 20 or more times an hour overnight.
Although someone with sleep apnea may not become fully awake during pauses in breathing, their sleep cycle is still affected. Sleep is fragmented, which results in a variety of consequences. Imagine waking up 20 times or more an hour. It’s no wonder sleep is not restful.
There are three types of sleep apnea including mixed, central and obstructive with the latter being the most common. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) develops when tissue in the rear of the throat collapses or sags and blocks the airway.
Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is pretty common. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, about 18 million people have sleep apnea. But sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed. Many people are not aware of the symptoms or dangers of untreated sleep apnea, so they don’t seek help.
In addition to snoring, symptoms of sleep apnea include morning tiredness and headaches. But not everyone who snores and is tired in the morning has sleep apnea. If you want to get to the bottom of a snoring problem, a sleep study is a good way to start.
A sleep study is a pretty straightforward test. You’ll be monitored overnight while you sleep. During a sleep study, your heart and respiratory rate, along with your oxygen level and eye movements are monitored during different stages of sleep. Your doctor will review your symptoms, along with the results of the sleep study to determine if you have sleep apnea.
More than Sleepiness
After a bad night’s sleep, you probably know how you might be dragging the next day. We’ve all been there; cranky, tired and desperate for coffee. But for people with obstructive sleep apnea, poor sleep is a chronic problem and can affect several areas of their life. For example, a lack of good sleep can lead to daytime sleepiness, fatigue, decreased motivation and poor work performance. But that’s not all, sleep problems can lead to mood disturbances, including depression, and can impact relationships. Sleep deprivation can also increase your risk of a motor vehicle accident.
Medical Conditions Associated with Sleep Apnea
It’s clear that sleep apnea if left untreated, can have a lot more serious consequences than just leaving you tired and irritable the next day. But you might be surprised to learn how many serious medical conditions are associated with sleep apnea. In fact, potential consequences of sleep apnea are downright scary.
For instance, sleep apnea is associated with a variety of potentially life-threatening conditions including heart disease, strokes and diabetes. According to the National Sleep Foundation, about 50 percent of people who have obstructive sleep apnea also have high blood pressure. Researchers theorize the pauses in breathing and hormonal changes that can occur overnight may contribute to hypertension.
Certain cardiac conditions are also linked to sleep apnea. So what gives? How can sleep apnea lead to heart disease? Researchers are not exactly sure how sleep apnea increases your chances of developing heart disease and having a heart attack. But remember, if you have sleep apnea, your breathing stops and starts often overnight. During these pauses, the oxygen level in your blood decreases. One theory on how sleep apnea can lead to cardiac problems is the decreased oxygen levels in the blood may damage the vessels that supply blood to the heart.
Another problem is the damage that is done may not just occur overnight while you’re sleeping. Doctors believe that the decreased oxygen levels at night may trigger various physiological changes that continue during the daytime even during normal breathing.
If cardiac conditions and hypertension were not enough, sleep apnea is also linked to diabetes. In fact, according to the International Diabetes Federation, about 40 percent of people with obstructive sleep apnea will develop type 2 diabetes. Although being overweight is a risk factor for both sleep apnea and diabetes, some studies indicate the association between the conditions may be independent of obesity.
Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea
Since sleep apnea may lead to serious medical problems, it’s easy to see why treatment is important ASAP. But not all treatment is right for every patient. There are different treatment options that may work for people with sleep apnea, depending on the severity of your symptoms and your preference.
What works for one person may not work for another. That’s why at Sullivan and Carothers, DDS, we take an individualized approach to treatment. For example, some people may benefit from using an oral appliance. A dental device, which is custom made, fits over your teeth and is worn at night. Although it might not sound pretty, the device can be an effective treatment. An oral appliance works by pushing your lower jaw forward and holding your airway open when you sleep. Our dentists will work together with your doctor to make the appliance and monitor its effectiveness.
Another option to consider is using a CPAP machine. CPAP is short for continuous positive airway pressure. If you use CPAP, you’ll wear a mask over your nose, which is attached by a hose to a small, CPAP machine. The machine is about the size of a shoebox or smaller. The machine generates air pressure, which is delivered to your airway through the mask. The pressure keeps your airway open while you sleep.
In most cases, an oral appliance or CPAP will be used to treat sleep apnea. But in cases where neither treatment works, surgery may be an option. There are different types of surgical procedures depending on your situation.
Keep in mind, many people with mild to moderate sleep apnea can be treated without surgery. But one thing is for sure, treating sleep apnea can decrease your risk of certain conditions and improve your sleep and overall quality of life.