What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that can cause life-threatening symptoms. Put simply, during sleep apnea an individual will stop breathing for a few seconds while asleep. In most cases, he or she will stop breathing many times during the night, resulting in a lack of restful sleep and oxygen deprivation.
What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
This is the most common type of sleep apnea, caused by a temporary blockage of the airway while you're asleep. This could be a result of some excess soft palate tissue, blocked sinuses, an improperly aligned jaw, or the relaxation of mouth and jaw muscles.
Central sleep apnea is rare, and is caused by a lack of signals from the brain telling the breathing muscles to continue working. This is usually related to some other serious medical condition.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea has many causes, but the most common are structural problems in the airway. It can also be caused by overly relaxed throat and tongue muscles blocking your airway or excess tissue in the mouth as a result of obesity.
Who Gets Sleep Apnea?
Anyone can have sleep apnea. In fact, as many as twenty million people in the United States may suffer from some form of it. There are risk factors, however, that indicate whether you are more likely to get it. Men are more likely to have sleep apnea. Other high risk groups include those who snore loudly or excessively, individuals with high blood pressure, and anyone who is overweight. There may also be a hereditary factor involved.
Does Snoring Automatically Mean I Have Sleep Apnea?
No, although it is very likely you have some form of sleep apnea. Snoring occurs when your airway is partially blocked, causing a vibration in the throat as you inhale and exhale. If snoring is interfering with your life in any way, be sure to consult with a specialist who is familiar with sleep apnea.
Why Do You Treat Sleep Apnea?
The goal of any treatment is to restore normal breathing while you are asleep so that you are getting sufficient amounts of oxygen and reducing the production of carbon dioxide. There are several ways to accomplish this, including surgery, oral appliances, CPAP, and behavioral modifications.
If I Have Obstructive Sleep Apnea, Do I Have To Have Surgery?
Not necessarily. In many situations, a dentist who specializes in sleep apnea medicine can help. He or she may be able to reduce or eliminate sleep apnea with an oral appliance tailored specifically for your mouth. The device will adjust the alignment of the lower jaw and tongue in order to keep your airway free from blockage.
Are There Alternatives To CPAP Machines?
CPAP machines are generally successful at treating sleep apnea, but some people find them annoying or intrusive and even difficult to use properly. If CPAP isn't working for you, consider an oral appliance before resorting to invasive surgery that may or may not work.
Can An Oral Appliance Help With My Snoring?
If you are using an oral appliance or mouthpiece to treat your sleep apnea, you will probably also experience far less snoring. In most cases, snoring is eliminated completely with a properly fitted appliance. It is more comfortable than a CPAP machine because it is much smaller, allows you to breathe through both your nose and mouth, and doesn't force air into the airway. It is also easier to use while traveling and doesn't make noise.
One popular and effective oral appliance is the Thornton Adjustable Positioner (TAP). This is a customized, adjustable appliance you put in your mouth when you sleep. It holds the lower jaw in position and slightly forward to keep the soft tissue of the mouth and tongue from blocking the airway. You or your partner can easily adjust the TAP for optimal results.
What Will Happen If I Don't Treat Sleep Apnea?
Lack of restorative sleep will affect your life in a variety of ways. You may experience drowsiness during the day, lack concentration, exhaustion, not be able to concentrate, gain weight and generally feel lethargic and less enthusiastic about your life. In several cases, you may suffer from depression, heart attack, or stroke.
How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?
Most patients ask for a sleep apnea evaluation after their partner has complained one time too often about their snoring. Some individuals come in because family members have seen them wake frequently or momentarily stop breathing at night.
There are several signs that you may have sleep apnea that you can check for yourself, including:
- Loud or disruptive snoring
- Frequently waking during the night because you can't breathe
- Drowsiness to the point you drift off during the day
- Sore throat or dry mouth in the morning
- Morning headaches
Seeing a doctor is the next step. Your doctor or dentist will arrange a sleep study, which is best done by a sleep apnea dentist. Several tests will be done while you are asleep to determine which type of sleep apnea you have. These are painless and done to record body functions and breathing patterns during sleep.