Sleep Apnea

You’ve likely heard that regular exercise and a heart-healthy diet are the most important things you can do for your cardiovascular health. However, it turns out that sleep quality is also essential for a healthy heart.

You are not getting enough restful sleep if you snore loudly, sleep with your head or neck in awkward positions, move around a lot, take multiple bathroom breaks, and experience daytime drowsiness. And your sleep apnea may also be causing your partner sleep deprivation. Dr. Theodore Siegel offers sleep apnea treatments and snoring solutions that enable his Chicago-area patients to rectify the issue and enjoy restorative sleep.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition resulting in life-threatening health issues. A person with sleep apnea may stop breathing for a few seconds while sleeping. In most cases, they stop breathing multiple times throughout the night, resulting in sleep deprivation and oxygen deficiency. During these episodes, the chest muscles and diaphragm work harder to open the airways.

There are three main types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) – is the most common type of sleep apnea. It’s caused by a temporary blockage of the upper airway during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea could result from excess soft palate tissue, blocked sinuses, an improperly aligned jaw, or the relaxation of mouth and jaw muscles.
  • Central sleep apnea – is a rare form of sleep apnea caused by the lack of signals from the brain telling the breathing muscles to continue working. Central apnea is usually related to some other serious medical condition.
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome – also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, occurs when a person has obstructive and central sleep apnea.

People with sleep apnea are generally unaware of their breathing difficulties during sleep. Consequently, they most often learn about the issue only from their partner, family member, or roommate. Continue reading for more information on the causes and symptoms of sleep apnea and available treatment options.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The signs and symptoms of the various types of sleep apnea may overlap, making it difficult to determine which type you have. Nevertheless, all three types of sleep apnea share certain symptoms:

  • Disrupted breathing where a person stops breathing during sleep
  • Excessive daytime drowsiness
  • Morning headaches
  • Irritability
  • Restless sleep
  • Limited attention span or difficulty thinking clearly

Additional symptoms that are connected to obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Snoring that is especially loud and involves choking, gasping, or snorting that may cause a person to wake up briefly
  • A constant need to wake up to urinate (nocturia)
  • Morning sore throat or dry mouth

In most cases, individuals with sleep apnea will stop breathing several times during the night, resulting in a sudden drop in blood oxygen levels and a lack of restful sleep.

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 due to obesity. In addition, untreated sleep apnea can cause serious medical conditions such as daytime drowsiness, high blood pressure or heart failure (cardiovascular disease), liver complications, and issues with medications or surgery.

Who Gets Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea can affect anybody. It is estimated that around twenty million Americans suffer from it. However, several risk factors indicate whether you are more likely to develop the condition. For instance, men are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea than women. In addition, high-risk groups also include those who snore loudly or excessively, those with hypertension, and those who are overweight.

Other possible risk factors for sleep apnea include but are not limited to:

  • A narrow throat
  • A round head
  • Morning headaches
  • Medical conditions that congest upper airways
  • Allergies
  • Heart disease
  • Nasal congestion
  • Family history of sleep apnea
  • Deviated septum (problem with nose structure)
  • Using narcotic pain medications
  • Smoking and alcohol use

Sleep apnea is a potentially fatal sleep disorder characterized by repeated pauses in breathing. If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, you must consult a health care professional. Treatment can alleviate your symptoms and prevent additional complications.

How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

Most patients request a sleep apnea evaluation after their partner has repeatedly complained about their snoring. Some patients are brought in by family members who have witnessed them waking up frequently or noticed sleep-disordered breathing patterns. You can also determine if you have sleep apnea by evaluating the signs and symptoms discussed previously.

Following a consultation with a physician, a sleep study will be scheduled to determine the type of sleep apnea you have. Your doctor can diagnose you with mild, moderate, or severe sleep apnea based on the number of sleep apnea events you experienced during an hour-long sleep study.

Individuals with mild sleep apnea have five to 14 apnea events in sleep per hour, those with moderate sleep apnea have 15 to 29 events in sleep per hour, and those with severe sleep apnea have 30 or more apnea events in sleep per hour. Your doctor may also request other tests to rule out medical conditions that could be causing your sleep disorder.

Does Snoring Automatically Mean I Have Sleep Apnea?

Snoring occurs when your airway is partially blocked, causing a vibration in the throat as you inhale and exhale. But not all snorers have obstructive sleep apnea. However, snoring accompanied by any of the symptoms mentioned above may indicate the need for further evaluation for sleep apnea by a physician.

How Do You Treat Sleep Apnea?

The objective of snoring treatments is to restore normal breathing during sleep to ensure adequate oxygen intake and reduce carbon dioxide production. And there are several effective treatments available, including surgical treatment, oral appliances, CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure therapy), and behavioral modifications. The most prevalent treatment for sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure. This breathing device eliminates breathing pauses by sending humidified air through the nose and creating air pressure to keep the throat open during sleep.

When treating sleep apnea, your doctor will perform a physical exam to evaluate your signs and symptoms based on the information you provide. They will review your family history for sleep apnea and other sleep disorders, whether you have a risk factor for the condition, and whether you’ve experienced any undiagnosed sleep apnea complications (high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, metabolic syndrome, or type two diabetes).

Should I Undergo Surgery if I Have Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Not necessarily. A dentist specializing in sleep apnea medicine can be of assistance in numerous instances. By custom-fitting you with an oral appliance, they may be able to reduce or eliminate your sleep apnea. The device will adjust the alignment of the lower jaw and tongue to prevent airway obstruction.

Are There Alternatives to CPAP Machines?

CPAP machines are generally successful at treating sleep apnea. However, some people find them annoying, intrusive, and even difficult to use properly. If CPAP isn’t working for you, consider an oral appliance before resorting to invasive surgical treatment that may or may not work.

Can an Oral Appliance Help With My Snoring?

If you treat your sleep apnea with oral appliance therapy, you will likely snore significantly less. In most cases, snoring is eliminated by a properly fitted oral appliance. It is more comfortable than a CPAP machine because it is significantly smaller, permits breathing through the nose and mouth, and does not force air into the airway. Additionally, it is easier to use while traveling as it does not emit noise.

The Thornton Adjustable Positioner (TAP) is an example of a well-known and efficient oral appliance. This customized, adjustable oral appliance is worn during sleep to prevent the tongue and soft tissue of the mouth from obstructing the airway. You or your partner can easily adjust the TAP to achieve optimal results.

What Will Happen if I Don’t Treat Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea, particularly when undiagnosed or untreated, has been linked to various health issues, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, glaucoma, and an increased risk of sudden death. Additionally, the fatigue you may experience from being awakened throughout the night can lead to accidents that endanger you or others.

Insufficient restorative sleep can impact your life in numerous ways. You may experience daytime drowsiness, lack of concentration, weight gain, and a general sense of lethargy and diminished zeal for life. People with sleep apnea may also experience depression, a heart attack, or a stroke.

Consult a sleep specialist at Big Smile Dental if you or your loved ones have noticed sleep apnea symptoms. Dr. Theodore Siegel can administer a sleep apnea test to evaluate your condition and determine the necessary treatment. We use specialized equipment to monitor and record your respiration, heart rate, brain waves, and oxygen levels while you sleep, so you can rest assured that your health is in good hands.

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