Over 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, and it’s estimated that at least half of those cases are undiagnosed. For the average person, this disorder is not life-threatening. However, all cases negatively affect one’s sleeping habits, and can lead to a host of more serious complications. To better understand this condition and its consequences, here are some key facts from Rancho Cucamonga dentist Sharon B. Mateja.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is the chronic interruption of one’s breathing pattern while asleep. People suffering from this disorder will experience irregular or obstructed breathing, resulting in a lighter rest. There are two established types of sleep apnea:
Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a natural obstruction in the airway, such as one’s tongue limiting the space in one’s throat. Due to this physical blockage, patients with obstructive sleep apnea also tend to snore often and loudly. Of all cases, this tends to be the more common reason for sleep apnea.
Central sleep apnea occurs when the body does not properly receive respiratory signals from the brain. As a result, patients will experience cyclical pauses in their breathing, lasting 10 to 30 seconds.
Signs and Symptoms
Although the causes of sleep apnea differ, they share comparable symptoms with which the disorder may be diagnosed.
- Fatigue throughout the day: The interruption in one’s breathing makes it more difficult to achieve full sleep cycles. As a result, sleep apnea often results in fatigue. Be aware that this is only one symptom, as there are many other reasons for fatigue.
- Waking from sleep: If you suddenly wake up at night without a good reason, it may be from lack of breath. Obstructive sleep apnea can also cause the sensation of gasping or choking upon waking.
- Morning headaches: Awaking with headaches or grogginess in the morning may be another sign of apnea, as a result of low oxygen levels.
- Concentration and mood: Interruption to one’s sleep can interfere with mood and the ability to concentrate. Forgetfulness, irritability, and similarly negative changes in behavior may be a result of sleep apnea.
The most obvious symptoms occur during sleep: someone suffering from obstructive sleep apnea can very likely be observed snoring, whereas someone suffering from central sleep apnea can be observed pausing between breaths.
Effects of Sleep Apnea
In addition to the signs noted above, sleep apnea can lead to further complications if left untreated. For instance, patients with ADHD may find their symptoms exacerbated by sleep apnea, while newer studies suggest that it could raise one’s risk of cancer over time. It has also been linked to an increased risk of the following conditions:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease and heart attacks
- Weight gain
Fatigue from sleep apnea can have an indirect effect on one’s daily life, such as less exercise, poor academic performance, or impaired motor control. The consequences of a light sleep are far reaching.
Since obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a physical obstruction, its treatment is more straightforward. Doctors may recommend positional therapy, in which patients learn more effective ways to sleep. Another suggestion is to avoid alcohol or certain medications that relax muscles. Sometimes, losing weight can promote the passage of air by reducing tissue in and around the throat. If lifestyle changes do not work, other treatments include surgery or wearing a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask during sleep.
Before opting for more invasive treatments, patients may want to try an oral appliance to wear while asleep. This device can adjust the jaw’s alignment, suppress the tongue, or a combination thereof, allowing the airway to open up.
If you suffer from sleep apnea, discuss these treatments with your doctor to determine which option best addresses your needs.
Interested in More Information?
Dr. Mateja is experienced in the fields of general, restorative, and cosmetic dentistry, with many satisfied patients. For more information on sleep apnea and its health effects, contact our office today. Don’t hesitate to call or email us with your questions or concerns; we’re happy to assist you with all your dental needs!