Orthodontic Strategies for Sleep Apnea
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition that causes people to either stop breathing or their breaths become extremely shallow during sleep. Sleep apnea affects 22 million Americans. These shallow breaths or the lack of breathing can last seconds or minutes. Normal breathing often restarts with a choking or snoring noise. Sleep apnea can cause you to feel unrested even if you slept for seven hours or more. This is because the symptoms of sleep apnea often causes patients to leave their deep sleep and enter into a lighter sleep.
What Are the Signs of Sleep Apnea?
There are some common signs of sleep apnea. Some you may notice and some you may not notice in yourself.
- Unusually loud snoring.
- You stop breathing during your sleep. This is a sign that somebody else will usually notice first.
- You wake up suddenly feeling short of breath.
- You wake up with an unusually dry mouth or with a sore throat.
- You wake up every morning with a headache.
- You struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep (or you struggle with both).
- You are excessively tired during the day.
- You struggle to pay attention during the day.
- You’re irritable.
If you have these signs or if someone in your family tells you that they’ve noticed them in you, you should make an appointment with an experienced orthodontist to talk about your concerns.
Are There Different Types of Sleep Apnea?
There are three different types of sleep apnea. The first type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It is the most commonly diagnosed type of sleep apnea. Studies suggest that only about 10% of people with OSA receive medical treatment. This is because the majority of OSA sufferers are often undiagnosed. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when part or all of the airway is blocked during sleep. This may happen because the tongue rolls toward the back of the mouth or because a patient has an excess of fatty tissue that blocks the throat. OSA diagnoses range from mild, moderate, or severe.
- Mild OSA means that the sufferer experiences between 5 and 14 interruptions each hour during their sleep cycle.
- Moderate OSA means that the sufferer experiences 15 to 30 interruptions each hour during their sleep cycle.
- Severe OSA means that the sufferer experiences 30 or more interruptions each hour during their sleep cycle.
Central sleep apnea (CSA) isn’t caused by your airway getting blocked by your tongue or other fatty tissue. Instead, central sleep apnea occurs when your brain doesn’t send the message to your muscles to keep breathing. Your brain is part of your central nervous symptom. Your brain isn’t communicating properly when you’re asleep to keep you breathing normally. CSA isn’t as common as OSA. It is a side effect of a brain injury or a medical issue that affects the brain. With CSA, a common symptom is mood swings.
The third type of sleep apnea is complex sleep apnea. This means that you have a combination of OSA and CSA. Healthcare professionals will usually diagnose complex sleep apnea after a sleep study that shows a patient has signs of each.
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What Are the Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea?
Risk factors vary depending on the type of sleep apnea. However, some factors are common with all three types. Risk factors for OSA include:
- Being overweight. This can cause an increase in fatty tissue that restricts the flow of air as you sleep.
- Your age. As we get older, we lose muscle tone even in our throats. Since the muscles are weaker, they can collapse over the airway and make it harder to breathe when you are sleeping.
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids can block your airway.
- Frequent use of intoxicants can cause the throat muscles to relax and block the airway during sleep.
- Smoking can cause irritation to your airway and make it harder to breathe.
- Family history.
CSA risk factors include:
- Parkinson’s Disease.
- Brain infection.
- Use of narcotics.
- Heart failure.
- Being overweight.
- Atrial fibrillation.
- Sleeping at higher altitudes.
- Brain tumor.
- Use of opioid medication.
Complex sleep apnea includes the risk factors of both OSA and CSA.
Is Sleep Apnea Dangerous?
Sleep apnea can be dangerous. It deprives our bodies of the oxygen we need to function properly. When this happens, we suffer more than a poor night’s sleep or fatigue during the day. Untreated, sleep apnea can cause numerous health problems. Sometimes, the symptoms of sleep apnea are signs of an underlying health condition.
Untreated sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure. For people who develop high blood pressure because of sleep apnea, the former usually gets better once they start treatment for the latter. It can also lead to heart disease and heart attacks. This is attributed to the heart getting the oxygen that it needs and from the stress of not sleeping.
Another complication of untreated sleep apnea is diabetes. Although there’s not a direct link between the two at this time, the common symptom of obesity is a link between the two diseases. Many healthcare professionals believe that lack of sleep can cause you to become insulin resistant. Insulin resistance is a warning sign of the onset of diabetes in the future.
Sleep apnea can cause or exacerbate many mental health problems. The lack of sleep can cause you to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression. It can also cause current mental illnesses to become more pronounced.
How Is Sleep Apnea Treated?
How sleep apnea is treated depends, ultimately, on which form of sleep apnea you are diagnosed with. OSA has several treatments. Some treatments are more conservative than others. It may be treated by use of a CPAP, an APAP, or a BIPAP machine. These machines force air through your airway while you are sleeping. This is known as positive airway pressure (PAP). Your doctor may prescribe the use of an oral appliance. An oral appliance is something that a patient wears in their mouth while they sleep. The two main types hold your jaws in a certain position and hold your tongue in a certain position. The objective of both is to keep your airway from becoming blocked. For severe OSA, surgery may also be an option.
Central sleep apnea is often treated with a CPAP or BPAP. Another option is an ASV. An ASV is an Adaptive-servo ventilation device. It makes automatic adjustments to compensate for any abnormal breathing patterns the patient may have when they are asleep. Medications may also be prescribed to people who have CSA. Usually, medications are not prescribed unless positive airway pressure doesn’t work.
Complex sleep apnea treatments will ultimately depend on which symptoms you exhibit. We can help develop a custom plan to treat your CSA.
What Should I Do If I Suspect Someone in My Family Suffers from Sleep Apnea?
If you believe that someone in your family has sleep apnea, you should keep a list of the symptoms and when they occur. Then, talk to the person about the benefits of being evaluated for sleep apnea.
To learn more about sleep apnea and how it can be treated with orthodontics, contact Orthodontists Associates of Western New York for a free screening.