What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea, or Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a condition where breathing is interrupted during sleep because the airway becomes obstructed, usually by the soft tissue in the back of your throat. Your body responds by waking you up just enough to move, rousing you out of deep sleep, disturbing normal sleep patterns and causing you to not get enough rest. Those with OSA can experience hundreds of episodes each night without being aware of it.
How serious is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Yes. OSA is a serious, chronic problem that, left untreated, can contribute to numerous health problems, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease and stroke
- Driving or work-related accidents
- Memory loss
- Extreme fatigue
- Decreased sex drive
- Impaired concentration
What are the symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
There are many symptoms and side effects of OSA:
- Extremely loud, disruptive snoring
- Choking or gasping for breath while sleeping
- Waking up with headaches and/or dry throat
- Having trouble concentrating
- Memory or learning problems
- General irritability, mood swings or depression
- Chronic sleepiness — feeling tired all the time even if it seems like you’re getting enough hours of sleep at night
- Nodding off easily (For example, while reading, watching TV or stopped at a traffic light)
Can Sleep Apnea be treated?
Fortunately, OSA has several different treatment options, including using a CPAP machine, surgery, lifestyle changes and oral appliances. Once you have been diagnosed with OSA, your medical team can help you determine which one is the right solution for you.
If you have been diagnosed with or know someone with OSA, the odds are that you’ve heard of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP. CPAP is a safe, elective treatment for OSA where constant, mild air pressure is delivered through a mask worn at night. This keeps the airway open, which prevents apnea from occurring. CPAP therapy does have some drawbacks which may lead patients to stop using the machine, including discomfort wearing the mask while sleeping, difficulty transporting the equipment while traveling, irritation with the noise created by the CPAP machine and difficulty exhaling against the flow of air from the machine.
There are several different surgical options that may help those who have OSA, including widening the breathing passages, removing the tonsils, shrinking or stiffening excess tissue, or removing excess tissue. It is important to weigh all of the costs and potential risk factors when considering surgery as a course of treatment.
For those with mild OSA, making a few lifestyle changes can help. Losing weight, quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol or medicines that make you drowsy, sleeping on your side instead of your back, and using nasal sprays or allergy medicines at night can all help OSA. Talk with your doctor before making any major lifestyle changes to discuss their risks and benefits.
OSA can be easily and effectively treated with a specially-made oral appliance that helps properly position the jaw so that your airways stay open all night. The appliance, similar to an athletic bite guard, helps stabilize the lower jaw and tongue and reposition them to make room for the air you need to breathe easy and sleep better.
How can I tell if I have Sleep Apnea?
If you are concerned that you might be suffering from OSA, start by talking to your physician. They’ll conduct a physical exam, take your medical history and will likely ask you and your bed partner to keep a diary of your sleep habits for a week or two. You may have to do a sleep study as well to more closely monitor your sleeping patterns. If you are diagnosed with Sleep Apnea, you may be referred to a dental sleep specialist to help determine whether an oral appliance is the best course of treatment for you.
Is CPAP my only option for treatment?
You may not have to use a CPAP machine. Many people with OSA are successfully treated with oral appliances that adjust jaw placement to keep their airways open. At Dental Sleep Alternatives, we specialize in the use of oral appliances to treat sleep apnea. Start by getting a referral from your doctor, or talk to us and we’ll connect you with one of our referring physicians. Once you have a proper medical order, you can schedule your appointment with Dental Sleep Alternatives. We’ll get you fitted for an appliance, train you in its usage and care, and follow up with you to make sure everything is working as it should. Then you’ll follow up with your referring physician to see how much you are benefitting from healthy, sound sleep.