Sleep Apnea & Snoring
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What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a prevalent condition that is characterized by frequent pauses in breathing when a person sleeps. According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 18 million people in the United States suffer from sleep apnea, many of whom have not been officially diagnosed. When sleep apnea goes unnoticed, people cannot receive the treatment they need. Initially, this can lead to daily issues such as headaches, fatigue, and poor memory. Over time, sleep apnea can lead to more serious health concerns, including diabetes, hypertension, and stroke. Although sleep apnea can be a dangerous condition, Dr. Martin Gorman offers effective treatment options to manage the condition to reduce the risk of developing life-threatening problems.
Sleep Apnea Types
Sleep apnea can be categorized into three different types:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea: The most common form, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the airway has been blocked, such as from tissue relaxing in the back of the throat.
- Central Sleep Apnea: When central sleep apnea (CSA) is present, the brain does not send the proper signals to the muscles responsible for breathing.
- Mixed Sleep Apnea: Mixed, or complex, sleep apnea involves a combination of both central and obstructive sleep apnea.
The best form of treatment will vary based on which type of sleep apnea has developed. To learn about the next steps for addressing your condition, you will first need to schedule a sleep study to receive a diagnosis, after which you can discuss your treatment options with Dr. Gorman.
Causes of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by the the muscles and soft tissues in the throat, mouth, or nose relaxing to the point of narrowing the breathing passages. As the airway becomes smaller, breathing becomes more difficult, and the tissues in the back of the throat may begin to vibrate with every breath, due to forcing air through the decreased space. These vibrations produce the sound we associate with snoring. Although snoring does not always mean a person has sleep apnea, this may be a warning sign they are not getting enough oxygen at night. In addition to snoring loudly, people suffering from sleep apnea may experience several pauses in breathing, lasting 10 seconds or more.
Since sleep apnea reduces a person’s ability to breathe properly, possibly limiting the oxygen to their brain, it is vital for those who suspect may have the condition to seek our treatment.
Sleep Apnea Signs and Symptoms
While some people may notice they have obstructive sleep apnea, most cases are first discovered by family members. This is because the signs and symptoms are more obvious to those around the sufferer. Common indications that a person has sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring.
- Gasping or choking during the night.
- Headaches in the morning.
- Sore throat or dry mouth after waking up.
- Difficulty remembering and concentrating.
- Increased need to urinate during the night.
These symptoms typically occur because the individual cannot breathe properly as they sleep, disrupting their quality of sleep. As a result, people tend to feel especially fatigued throughout the day and may have issues trying to stay awake.
Do I Have Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)?
Although OSA is the most common manifestation of sleep apnea, the breathing disorder commonly goes undiagnosed because key symptoms—such as snoring and pauses in breathing—occur at night while a patient is asleep. Nevertheless, obstructive sleep apnea can pose a great risk to an individual’s health and well-being, with these disruptions in breathing often culminating in daytime symptoms as well as cardiovascular and blood pressure problems. A consultation with Dr. Gorman can help determine whether you may be affected by obstructive sleep apnea (an official diagnosis can be obtained from a physician), but the following checklist can help you gain a more thorough understanding of whether your symptoms may be an indication of OSA:
- I snore. Since snoring typically acts as the response to a partially closed airway, snoring can be a telltale sign of the excessive relaxation of soft tissues in the throat (a symptom of OSA). It is estimated that one in three patients who snore are affected by obstructive sleep apnea.
- I breath through my mouth. Mouth breathing cancels the ability to filter out pollutants, allergens, pesticides, smog, pollen, and other microbes when taking in oxygen, often causing swelling and inflammation of the throat that can restrict the airways.
- I often feel tired and unenergetic during the day. Daytime sleepiness is a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, as patients who experience frequent pauses in breathing while asleep may fail to spend adequate time in the deeper sleep stages, resulting in fatigue and sleepiness throughout the day.
- I have a chronic cough, sore throat, or difficulty swallowing. Throat issues have a high correlation to cases of OSA, with conditions like Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and sleep apnea often occurring together. A dry mouth and sore throat upon waking up can be an effect of breathing through the mouth, which is considered dysfunctional breathing that is likely to inflame the tissues of the throat.
When your breathing pauses for more than ten seconds at a time while asleep (an event characteristic of sleep apnea), the “fight or flight” response in the Sympathetic Nervous System activates and releases stress hormones—such as cortisol—into the bloodstream. These elevated cortisol levels can result in increased blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia, an increased hunger drive, and other health hazards over time if the breathing disorder is left untreated. For these reasons, timely evaluation of your symptoms and proactive treatment is essential.
What Are the Risks of Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea that goes untreated can lead to a wide range of issues. People living with the condition who do not receive prompt treatment are at a higher risk of experiencing the following:
- Loud Snoring
- Snorting or Gasping for Air
- Frequent Nighttime Urination
- Morning Headaches
- Daytime Sleepiness
- Memory Loss
- Lack of Energy
- Drowsy Driving
- Excessive Stress
- Cardiovascular Strain
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Increased Risk for Accidents
- Weight Gain
- High Blood Pressure
Sleep Apnea Treatments
When sleep apnea is addressed with the proper treatment, risks associated with the condition are significantly reduced. After the patient has received a sleep apnea diagnosis, Dr. Gorman will talk with them about their symptoms, review their medical history, and may perform a scan utilizing state-of-the-art dental technology to evaluate possible obstructions. Once he is familiar with the details of their condition, Dr. Gorman will create a personalized treatment plan with the goal of improving their nighttime breathing. This often involves the use of a custom-fitted dental appliance the patient will wear while sleeping.
If the patient’s sleep apnea is being caused by the tongue relaxing in the throat, a tongue-retaining device may be the ideal treatment for maintaining an open airway. Should an abnormal jaw position be causing breathing difficulties, Dr. Gorman may recommend a special device to correct this alignment, such as a mouthpiece or a device strapped around the head. Oral devices used to address sleep apnea are removable and typically resemble athletic mouth guards.
If you have any questions about sleep apnea, or would like to learn about your treatment options, please contact Gorman Dental Center to schedule an appointment.