Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder in which breathing is interrupted while asleep, and can mean that your body and brain don’t get enough oxygen. People with undiagnosed sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly, sometimes hundreds of times per night.
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are two types of sleep apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea (CSA).
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is more common and is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.
Central Sleep Apnea occurs when the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe and may be caused by instability in the respiratory control center.
Sleep apnea can affect anyone at any age, including children. Risk factors for sleep apnea include:
- Male gender
- Being overweight
- 40 years of age or older
- A large neck size (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women)
- Large tonsils, large tongue or a small jaw bone
- Family history of sleep apnea
- Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
- Nasal obstruction due to deviated septum, allergies or sinus problems
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 dental practice.
- Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- Loud snoring
- Waking up at night short of breath
- Snorting or choking sounds during the night (indicates a restart of breathing)
- Headaches upon waking
- Falling asleep unintentionally during the day
- Extreme drowsiness during the day
Is Sleep Apnea Dangerous?
Sleep apnea is considered a serious medical problem. If left untreated, it can lead to high blood pressure and an increased risk for heart failure and stroke. The ongoing state of fatigue caused by sleep apnea may lead to problems at school or work as well as danger when driving or operating heavy machinery. Sleep apnea can also cause complications with medications or surgery.
How is Sleep Apnea Treated?
Treatments for sleep apnea vary depending on the severity of the case and the type of apnea involved. Basic treatments may simply be behavioral and include losing weight, stopping smoking or sleeping on the side rather than the back. If basic treatments fail to work, oral devices can be used to position the mouth in such a way that it prevents throat blockage. In severe cases, surgery may be the best option.