Recognizing Sleep Apnea
Sleep Apnea occurs when the airway collapses and blocks airflow to the lungs. Often, family members, especially spouses, witness the periods of apnea. A person with obstructive sleep apnea usually snores heavily soon after falling asleep. The snoring continues at a regular pace for a period of time, often becoming louder. It is then interrupted by a long silent period during which there is no breathing.
This is followed by a loud snort and gasp, and the snoring returns. This pattern repeats frequently throughout the night. This disruption in breathing can cause the person to wake up repeatedly throughout the night..
Sleep apnea is as common as adult diabetes, and affects more than twelve million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. Risk factors include being male, overweight, and over the age of forty, but sleep apnea can strike anyone at any age, even children. Yet still because of the lack of awareness by the public and healthcare professionals, the vast majority remain undiagnosed and therefore untreated, despite the fact that this serious disorder can have significant consequences. Your dentist can play a major role in screening, diagnosing and treating sleep apnea
If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should talk to your doctor because you may be suffering from sleep apnea:
- Loud snoring
- Feeling tired, fatigued, or sleepy during the day (also known as excessive sleepiness or ES)
- Frequent sleep disruptions caused by pauses in breathing or trips to the bathroom
- Trouble concentrating
- Mood/behavior change
- Gasping or choking at night
- Sleeping more than normal or difficulty staying asleep
- Morning headaches
- Memory loss
In order to test/diagnose for sleep apnea a complete history and physical exam must be performed. This will involve carefully checking your mouth, neck, and throat. A sleep study (polysomnogram) may be used to confirm obstructive sleep apnea.
Untreated, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, impotency, and headaches. Fortunately, sleep apnea can be diagnosed and treated. Several treatment options exist, and research into additional options continues.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
CPAP is now regarded as the first-line treatment for obstructive sleep apnea in most people. Mandibular Repositioning Appliances open the airway by bringing the lower jaw forward and are a good alternative for those patients that have difficulty tolerating CPAP. There are also surgical procedures that open the airway by removing excess tissue blocking airflow. Your doctor and dentist will work as a team to find the best treatment for you.