Are you drowsy during the day with no explanation? Do you snore loudly or wake up breathless in the middle of the night? If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, you may be one of more than 12 million Americans who are affected by sleep apnea.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition in which your breathing stops periodically during sleep, as many as 20-30 times per hour. Each time you stop breathing in your sleep, the resulting lack of oxygen alerts your brain, which temporarily wakes you up to restart proper breathing. Since the time spent awake is so brief, most people with sleep apnea don't remember it, and many feel like they are getting a good night's sleep when, in fact, they are not. The constant wake-sleep, wake-sleep cycle prevents those with sleep apnea from achieving deep sleep, resulting in a constant drowsy feeling during the day.
What are the signs of sleep apnea?
The following symptoms can indicate the presence of sleep apnea. If you notice one or more of these, contact our practice or your general physician.
Are there different types of sleep apnea?
The three main types of sleep apnea are:
- Obstructive sleep apnea - (OSA) This is the most common form of sleep apnea that occurs due to a physical blockage, usually the collapsing of the soft tissue in the back of the throat.
- Central sleep apnea - (CSA) This type of sleep apnea occurs when your brain doesn't properly communicate to your muscles that they need to continue helping you breathe when you're asleep.
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome (aka treatment-emergent central sleep apnea) - This condition is a combination of both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
What are risk factors for sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in males than females, and more common in older adults (40+) than younger adults and children. However, anyone — regardless of gender or age — can suffer from sleep apnea. Other risk factors include obesity, smoking, drinking, use of sedatives or tranquilizers, and family history. Central sleep apnea strikes most often in people with heart disorders, neuromuscular disorders, strokes, or brain tumors.
Is sleep apnea dangerous?
- Sleep apnea is considered a serious medical problem and if left untreated it can lead to high blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart failure and stroke.
- The ongoing state of fatigue caused by sleep apnea can lead to problems at work or school, as well as danger when driving or operating heavy machinery.
- Sleep apnea can also cause complications with medication or surgery; sedation by anesthesia can be risky, as can lying flat in bed after an operation.
How is sleep apnea treated?
Treatments for sleep apnea depend on the severity of each individual case, and the type of apnea. Basic treatment can be behavioral — for instance, patients are instructed to lose weight, stop smoking, or sleep on their sides instead of on their backs. Beyond that, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines can increase breath flow or oral devices can be used to position the mouth in such a way that prevents throat blockage. The oral device shown below can be prescribed by our office for snoring or for those sleep apnea patients who cannot tolerate a CPAP machine. In more severe cases, orthognathic surgery may be the best option.
What should I do if I suspect that someone in my family suffers from sleep apnea?
Contact our practice, and we can refer you to a sleep apnea specialist. The specialist may recommend a sleep study to diagnose the precise extent of the problem, and can prescribe appropriate treatment. Depending on your situation, treatment may involve a CPAP machine or an oral device that we can custom-create for you at Engel Orthodontics.