Does your sleeping partner complain about your snoring? Do you wake up feeling groggy even though you think you slept the whole night through? You could be one of the estimated 25 million Americans suffering from sleep apnea. The disorder is associated with a host of serious health issues and, unfortunately, it often goes undiagnosed. At Naperville Dental Specialists, we have expertise in obstructive sleep apnea. We can determine if you’re suffering with the disorder and offer solutions to help you sleep more soundly. If you’re wondering, “Do I have sleep apnea?” read on to find out more about the signs, symptoms and causes of this common sleep disorder.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Before we get into the sleep apnea symptoms, let’s cover what the disorder is. A person is said to have sleep apnea if they experience repeated episodes where their breathing stops for at least 10 seconds while they’re asleep. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. While there is another form, central sleep apnea, which occurs when the brain doesn’t signal the muscles that control your breathing, today, we’ll be talking about obstructive sleep apnea. This type happens when the muscles in the back of the throat that support the uvula, soft palate, tonsils, tongue and the sides of the throat relax creating a narrowing or blocking of the airway. Your body isn’t able to take in enough oxygen. Your brain senses that you’re not breathing and wakes you up so that you can breathe again. You may find – or, more likely, your partner may notice – that you wake up gasping or choking for air. Since most people wake up only very briefly, they may not even remember that they did awaken.
This cycle of your breathing stopping and starting during sleep can happen a handful of times or 30 times or more every hour throughout the night. Since you have these frequent disruptions, you may not reach the deeper, restful phases of sleep, leaving you feeling excessively tired during the day.
What are the Signs of Sleep Apnea?
The most common sleep apnea symptoms are:
- Loud snoring
- Gasping or choking for air during sleep
- Episodes where your breathing stops when you’re sleeping (reported by another person)
- Dry mouth or sore throat upon waking up
- Excessive sleepiness during the daytime
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble staying asleep
- Morning headaches
- High blood pressure
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, sleep apnea is caused either by a person’s physical structure or medical conditions. There are a number of risk factors for developing sleep apnea, including:
- Being overweight
- Having large tonsils
- Having a large neck
- Having a large tongue
- Having a small jawbone
- Being over the age of 40
- Being male
- A family history of sleep apnea
- A deviated septum, allergies or sinus issues that block the nasal passageways
- Premature birth
- Suffering from certain conditions, including neuromuscular conditions
What Complications Can Sleep Apnea Cause?
A question we hear frequently from patients is, “Can you die from sleep apnea?” While, no, you won’t die in your sleep from not breathing because your body wakes you up, sleep apnea is tied to other conditions and incidents like car accidents and heart disease, which can decrease life expectancy. Because sleep apnea reduces oxygen levels in your blood, affects your circadian rhythms, elevates your blood pressure, and causes other disruptions in the body, it has been associated with:
- Heart disease
- Learning and memory problems
- Sexual dysfunction
- Automotive and workplace accidents
- Heart attack
These are all serious issues that can greatly reduce your quality of life and have a negative impact on your health.
What are My Sleep Apnea Treatment Options?
Thankfully, there are sleep apnea treatment options that can help. It’s always recommended that you try less invasive treatments before moving on to something permanent. As for how to treat sleep apnea, these are the most common approaches:
- Lifestyle Changes – Making lifestyle changes is tough. We know! However, things like losing weight, quitting smoking and refraining from alcohol, particularly close to bedtime, can make a big difference and reduce or even eliminate sleep apnea. When you come in for a consultation at Naperville Dental Specialists, we take a detailed health history and determine some of the factors that could be making your sleep apnea worse. We then recommend changes and healthier alternatives.
- An Oral Appliance for Sleep Apnea – We’ve had a lot of success treating our Naperville sleep apnea patients with the SomnoDent® Mandibular Advancement Splint (MAS). This custom oral appliance moves the lower jaw forward just slightly, which in turn, tightens the soft tissues and muscles in the upper airway, preventing obstruction when you’re sleeping. It also helps prevent the tissues of the upper airway from vibrating, which is a cause of snoring. An oral appliance for sleep apnea can be effective for mild, moderate and severe cases. A lot of patients prefer an oral appliance to invasive alternatives and cumbersome CPAP machines.
- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) – CPAP is a machine that consists of a mask that’s connected to an air pressure generator. The device sends air through the throat that is strong enough to stop the tissues from collapsing. CPAP devices are effective but not all patients can tolerate wearing the sleep apnea mask and some find the machine to be awkward.
- Sleep Apnea Surgery – Sleep apnea surgery should be your last resort after trying measures like weight loss, an oral appliance or CPAP. The most common surgical procedure for sleep apnea is the uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). During the procedure, a surgeon removes and/or remodels tissue in the throat so that it doesn’t obstruct the airway. Its long-term effectiveness is still being evaluated and it’s not the right option for every patient, however, for some, it does help improve their sleep apnea.
If you’re looking for relief from sleep apnea and you’re ready to reclaim your quality of life, schedule a consultation at Naperville Dental Specialists. Our experts will develop an accurate diagnosis and walk you through our Naperville sleep apnea treatment options.