What is Sleep Apnea and How Can It Be Treated?
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Sleep Apnea Education
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder in the United States that can have a serious negative impact on ones health. Those afflicted with sleep apnea repeatedly stop and start breathing during sleep. The condition often results in loud snoring, constant tiredness, and other health problems.
So, what is Sleep Apnea?
There are three main types of sleep apnea. All can be serious conditions. Persons who show possible symptoms of sleep apnea should consult a doctor about diagnosis and treatment.
- Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common form, occurs when the throat muscles relax and block the airway.
- Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain isn’t sending the right signals to properly control breathing.
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome is a condition where a person suffers from both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms and Causes
Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
The symptoms of the different types of sleep apnea overlap. This makes the identification of the exact form of sleep apnea difficult without the help of a trained medical professional.
The most common symptoms include the following:
- Loud snoring
- Periods during sleep where breathing stops
- Gasping for air while sleeping
- Dry mouth upon waking
- Morning headaches
- Acid Reflux
- Early Onset High Blood Pressure
- Waking up often to urinate
- Sexual dysfunction
- Difficulty paying attention
Causes of Sleep Apnea
The causes of obstructive and central sleep apnea are very different but ultimately lead to the same result. With obstructive sleep apnea, the person’s muscles in the back of the throat relax. The person’s airway narrows or closes as they breathe in.
As a result, the person doesn’t get enough air with each breath. The oxygen level in their blood falls. When the brain detects the drop in oxygen, it forces the person to wake to reopen the airway, often accompanied by snorting, choking, or gasping for air.
For a person with central sleep apnea, the brain fails to send signals to the breathing muscles. The person makes no effort to breathe for a short period and often wakes with shortness of breath.
Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a condition that can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex, weight, overall health, or habits. But there are common risk factors for each type of sleep apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea Risk Factors
Obesity. Obesity is a major risk factor, and it greatly increases the risk of developing sleep apnea. Fat deposits in the neck may block the upper airway and further obstruct breathing.
Narrow Airway. Some people have simply inherited a narrow throat. Enlarged tonsils or adenoids, often in children, can also block the airway.
Age and Sex. Sleep apnea occurs more often in older adults. Men are 2-3 times more at risk. Womens risk increases after menopause.
Alcohol, Sedatives, or Tranquilizers. These substances will relax the muscles in the throat and can worsen obstructive sleep apnea.
Smoking. Smoking can increase inflammation and fluid retention in the airway. Thus, smokers are 3x more at risk.
Nasal Congestion. Persons with difficulty breathing through the nose are more likely to develop sleep apnea.
By 2022, 60% of adults will have at least minor Sleep Apnea
Central Sleep Apnea Risk Factors
Age and Sex. Both middle-aged and older persons have a higher risk of central sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea is also more common in men than women.
Heart Conditions. Having disorders such as congestive heart failure increases the risk of developing central sleep apnea.
Endocrine Disorders. Conditions like hypothyroidism lower certain hormones and may affect the part of the brain that controls breathing.
Narcotics. Opioid pain medications can increase the risk of central sleep apnea.
Stroke. Having a prior stroke increases the risk of central sleep apnea.
Health Concerns Related to Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can be a serious medical condition. Its complications can include, but are not limited to, the following.
Excessive Daytime Tiredness. Sleep apnea makes normal, deep sleep impossible and often leads to daytime drowsiness, fatigue and irritability.
Problems Concentrating and Staying Awake. Persons with sleep apnea may have difficulty concentrating and find themselves falling asleep while at work, watching TV, or driving.
Irritability. Sleep apnea can make a person quick-tempered, moody, or depressed. Children may perform poorly in school or have behavior issues.
High Blood Pressure. Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels can raise blood pressure and put additional strain on the cardiovascular system.
Heart Conditions. Obstructive sleep apnea might increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and abnormal heartbeats.
Type 2 Diabetes. Sleep apnea can increase the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Medications and Surgery Complications. Sleep apnea can cause complications with medications, anesthesia, and recovery.
Liver Conditions. People with sleep apnea are more likely to have abnormal liver function.
Sleep Apnea Treatment Options
How to Treat Sleep Apnea
There are a number of treatments for sleep apnea that have proven to be effective. Sometimes healthy lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, better diet, and weight loss can help. For other cases, breathing devices, mouthpieces, CPAP, or surgery may be recommended.
Treating Sleep Apnea with a CPAP
A CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine is the most commonly recommended treatment for sleep apnea. When combined with healthy lifestyle changes, many patients see their condition improve. But there can be complications with CPAP.
How CPAP Works
A CPAP machine often includes a mask that fits over the nose and mouth. A tube connects the mask to a motor that pressurizes the tube. The pressurized air travels through an air filter and into the mask.
The pressurized air from the CPAP machine opens the person’s airways so that the lungs receive plenty of oxygen. Because nothing obstructs the flow of oxygen, breathing doesn’t pause and the person doesn’t repeatedly wake up to resume breathing.
Complications with CPAP
For CPAP treatment to work, the person must use the CPAP machine every time they sleep. This may not be a problem when at home in bed. But it can be a challenge when traveling or taking naps. Getting used to using a CPAP machine takes time and patience.
Pressure settings may need to be adjusted often for comfort. Many people also find it hard to find a comfortable mask. It is also necessary to clean the mask and tube every day. A medical device prescription must be maintained to replace the mask and tube when needed.
Many also experience side effects to the CPAP treatment as well, including the following:
- Runny nose
- Dry mouth
- Stomach discomfort and bloating
- Irritation from the mask
Surgery for Sleep Apnea
It’s possible to have severe obstructive sleep apnea that doesn’t respond to the use of a CPAP machine. A visible obstruction to the upper airway, such as having large tonsils, can make CPAP and other treatments ineffective.
Procedures for Sleep Apnea
Sinusplasty. A sinusplasty opens blocked sinuses by using an inflatable balloon to dialate the sinus passages. The relief from opened canals can result in regular drainage and a decrease in snoring and sleep apnea symptoms.
Turbinate Reduction Surgery. This procedure aims to reduce the overall size of the inferior nasal turbinates resulting in improved airflow in the nasal cavity.
Septoplasty. A septoplasty procedure resets and straightens the bone and cartilage of the septum to even space between each side of the nostril. This is a common procedure for patients with a deviated septum and improves airflow to one or both sides of the nostril.
Sleep Apnea Surgery Complications
Although many of the procedures for sleep apnea treatment are considered routine surgery, they can result in serious complications. Jaw and throat surgeries can lead to moderate or severe pain for weeks or longer. Some report a feeling of something stuck in their throat when swallowing.
As with any surgery, there is a risk of infection, nerve injury, and blood loss. Jaw fractures and loss of a portion of the jaw are possible. Future dental issues can also occur, such as the need for root canals. Voice changes can last for months or longer. The jaw position can even relapse.
CPAP and Surgery Alternatives
Although CPAP machines and surgery are some of the most commonly recommended treatments for sleep apnea, that doesn’t mean they’re the best treatment for everyone. There are alternatives. For some, lifestyle changes can help. Others can simply avoid sleeping on their back.
Neural stimulation, special exercises, and quitting bad health habits can also help many who suffer from sleep apnea. One treatment that is rapidly growing in popularity is the use of oral appliances, such as mouthguards.
What Is a Oral Device Therapy?
An oral device, or sleep apnea mouthguard, is an oral appliance worn in the mouth during sleep to treat sleep apnea. It looks similar to a sports guard or orthodontic appliance. It is also referred to as a mandibular advancement device or dental appliance.
Getting an oral device starts with an examination of the patient’s nose and throat to find the root of the snoring and/or sleep apnea. A home sleep study may be used. Conveniently worn for one night, the sleep study measures snoring and oxygen levels to help detect sleep apnea.
Once a patient is identified as a good candidate for an oral device, a dental specialist makes an impression of the teeth. The mouthguard is created and the patient is called back for a fitting. Follow-up appointments are made to check on the patient’s progress.
How an Oral Device Mouthguard Treats Sleep Apnea
A sleep specialist will determine if a mouthguard is the best treatment. Mouthguards are non-invasive and are used to reposition and stabilize your lower jaw, tongue, soft palate and uvula.
The oral appliance prevents the collapse of the tongue and soft tissues in the back of the throat and improves air intake to provide sleep apnea relief. They can also advance the lower jaw forward to help keep the airway open during sleep.
Benefits of an Oral Appliance
A sleep apnea oral device is a comfortable, convenient device that encourages the wearer to use it as much as possible and leads to noticeable results. Mouthguards improve the symptoms of sleep apnea, including daytime sleepiness, moodiness, and concentration issues, as well as snoring.
The oral appliance is a great option for people who cannot tolerate a CPAP device. It’s also easier to take along when traveling. And it doesn’t require electricity. Because it makes no sound, it’s much appreciated by partners who sleep in the same room.
Schedule Your Sleep Apnea Screening Today!
If you think you or a loved one might be suffering from sleep apnea, an oral appliance might help. Sleep specialist Dr. Chad Denman, provides CPAP alternative sleep apnea treatment.
Contact us now to book an appointment!
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