If you're sleeping regular hours every night but not getting enough rest, you may be displaying some symptoms of sleep apnea and not even be aware of it. Sleep apnea is a common yet severe disorder in the United States. Untreated sleep apnea can be so devastating that it can severely destroy your health.
Understanding Sleep Apnea
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), sleep apnea is a general disorder in which you experience one or more gaps in breathing or light breathing during your sleep. These breathing breaks can continue from a few seconds to minutes, occurring 30 times or more, per hour. Sleep Apnea can happen when the upper airway gets continually blocked during sleep, decreasing or completely stopping airflow. This is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). If the brain fails to send the signals required to breathe, the state may be referred to as central sleep apnea (CSA).
Reasons for Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can be induced by a person’s physical form or medical conditions. Here are a few reasons that are known to contribute to sleep apnea disorder:
- Large tonsils
- Endocrine disorders
- Neuromuscular disorders
- Heart or kidney failure
- Certain genetic syndromes
- Premature birth
How Dangerous Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)?
Sleep apnea can disturb your respiration during sleep. When your breathing stops, your blood oxygen levels reduce and carbon dioxide increases. This makes your heart and blood vessels strain themselves and can adversely impact your heart speed and nervous system. All of these can further lead to some severe problems including:
- Low blood oxygen levels during sleep
- Heart failure
- Irregular heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation
- Coronary artery disease (CAD)
- A greater-than-normal number of red blood cells
- Death due to blood vessel disease affecting the brain or heart (stroke) or heart attack
- Respiratory failure and immediate death
Sleep apnea can lead to the rapid advancement of some of these conditions that may cause difficulties in their treatment. Curing sleep apnea may help reduce the severity of some of these conditions.
Other problems that can arise from OSA:
- Drowsiness and fatigue
- Falling asleep suddenly during the day
- Memory problems as well as trouble concentrating
- Poor social life
- Physical health may suffer due to lack of exercise
Sleep Apnea Diagnosis: Why It’s So Important
Correct diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea can also be crucial for public safety, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Since sleep apnea disorder is linked to chronic daytime drowsiness, it has been recognized as a major reason for the numerous devastating industrial and transport mishaps. To diagnose your illness, your doctor may consider an assessment based on your symptoms, an examination, and tests. You may get referred to a sleep specialist for further evaluation.
Your physical examination will include:
- Review of the rear of your throat, mouth, and nose for additional tissue or anomalies
- Measurement of your neck and waist circumference
- Checking of your blood pressure
A sleep specialist may perform an additional evaluation to diagnose your condition, identify the severity of your situation and recommend your treatment. The assessment may involve overnight observation of your breathing and related body functions during your sleep.
Tests to identify OSA include:
- Home sleep apnea testing
Sleep Apnea Treatment
The treatment for OSA will depend on the type and position of airway blockade and on the individual's overall health. A few effective treatments for OSA include:
Therapies for sleep apnea:
- Positive airway pressure such as CPAP
- Mouthpiece (oral device)
Surgical and other procedures for OSA:
- Surgical removal of tissue
- Upper airway stimulation
- Jaw surgery
- A surgical opening in the neck
- Nasal surgery to eliminate polyps
- Surgery to eliminate distended tonsils or adenoids
Lifestyle changes for milder OSA cases:
- Weight management
- Regular exercise
- Moderate alcohol consumption
- No smoking
- Nasal decongestants or allergy medicine application
- Avoid sleeping on your back
With routine follow-ups, dentists can help in the identification of several sleep disorders at the onset. Contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our Des Moines dentists today!