What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is a common sleep disorder that affects more than 30 million people a year in the U.S. It causes you to stop breathing during sleep; this happens because the airway repeatedly becomes blocked, therefore limiting the amount of air that reaches the lungs. This blockage can occur many times during one night, and hundreds of times in more severe cases. When this happens, you may make loud noises, or snore during your sleep. As you try to breathe, and are not able, your body and brain become oxygen deprived. When this occurs, the brain will send a “shot” of epinephrine, telling your body to wake up and take a breath. This “shot” of epinephrine can be harmful, if it happens numerous times; it stresses the cardiovascular system, increasing heart and blood pressure, and can eventually to cardiovascular issues.
Sleep Apnea Causes
In most cases, this blockage occurs when your muscles relax, allowing soft tissue to collapse and block the airway. Additionally, if you sleep on your back, gravity can cause your tongue to fall back. This narrows the airway, reducing the amount of oxygen that reaches the lungs.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
There are several symptoms associated with sleep apnea. We mentioned snoring already but there are others:
- Loud Snoring
- Sleepiness or lack of energy even after getting a full night of sleep
- Restless Sleep
- Recurrent Awakenings or insomnia
- Waking up with very sore or dry throat
What if you don’t treat your Sleep Apnea?
If left untreated, sleep apnea can be incredibly harmful to your health. It can cause excessive fatigue during the day to more complicated things, like headaches and memory loss. More serious health issues can occur:
- Heart disease
- Chronic Acid Reflux
- High Blood Pressure
If you or a your doctor suspects indications of sleep apnea, you may be referred to a sleep physician for a comprehensive sleep evaluation. The sleep physician may prescribe an overnight sleep study to help diagnose sleep apnea. Nowadays, there is also the option of a home sleep study.
- In-lab overnight sleep study: In this test, you are required to stay overnight at a sleep clinic. You will sleep with various sensors that are hooked to your body; these will record a lot of information while you sleep, like heartbeat, brain waves, breathing and movement for example.
- Home sleep apnea test: The home sleep apnea test is a great alternative option. You are able to stay in the comfort of your own house with a small monitor that collects data as you sleep. This test is not as thorough as the in-lab one but is highly recommended for people that have high risk factors, for sleep apnea, but no other serious condition.
After either of these tests are done, you would schedule a follow up appointment to discuss the results.
There are a couple different treatment options for sleep apnea. Of all the options, two of them have been proven to be most effective.
- The first is the CPAP. The CPAP machine (or just sleep apnea machine) uses a gentle stream of air to keep your airway open during the night so you are able to breathe without any complications. You wear a mask with a hose that is attached to the CPAP machine that is kept next to your bed. The size of the masks and the machines vary depending on the treatment and comfort needs.
- The second is Oral Appliance Therapy. This consists of a dental sleep appliance, a device that fits in your mouth while you sleep; it resembles a mouth guard or a retainer. The dental sleep appliance prevents the airway from closing by either holding the jaw in a forward position, preventing the tongue from falling back towards the throat. The big upside about this method is the comfort; it is a lot less cumbersome than the CPAP machine. Oral Appliance Therapy is usually recommended to patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea, but may even successfully treat more severe cases.
Below are some of the different types of sleep appliances available.
If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, you should discuss all the options with your doctor to determine the best treatment for you. We, at Chicago Beautiful Smiles, are proud to provide sleep apnea screenings, as well as, treatment options, in addition to our cosmetic and general dentistry. Let us know how we can help!
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