Everyone has the occasional bad night of sleep but when a person’s sleep is interrupted on a nightly basis, there could be an underlying problem. Sleep apnea is a type of serious sleep disorder in which a person stops and starts breathing repeatedly. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to daytime tiredness, loud snoring, high blood pressure, and possible heart problems.
An estimated 30 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, according to the American Medical Association (AMA), but only 6 million receive an official diagnosis. Fortunately, treatment is available for people who suffer from this condition.
Types of Sleep Apnea
If you are constantly battling fatigue and feel like you are not getting enough shut-eye even after seven-plus hours, you could have a condition known as sleep apnea. There are three main types, each characterized by its own set of unique symptoms.
The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This condition occurs when certain throat muscles relax too much. When the soft palate, tongue, tonsils, and uvula begin to collapse, the tissues can fall into the throat and partially or completely block the airway. Loud snoring is an indicator that the airway is blocked and, in some cases, a person may gasp for air. The brain can sense that you are not receiving enough oxygen and will signal your body to wake up.
Central sleep apnea can be more difficult to diagnose and treat than OSA. Similar to OSA, central sleep apnea is caused by a mechanical issue that blocks the airway. The biggest difference between the two is that the brain is directly involved. With central sleep apnea, the brain does not send the proper messages to the muscles responsible for controlling breathing, meaning this condition is neurological in nature.
The last type is complex sleep apnea which is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea. This condition results in breathing problems even after the airway obstruction issue has been diagnosed and treated. This generally means that there is something else causing the collapse of the throat muscles. The true cause of complex sleep apnea is still unknown and treatment typically involves a combination of interventions.
Symptoms are not always immediately recognized by the patient but often by the patient’s partner. Some of the most common signs and symptoms include:
- Dry mouth upon awakening
- Daytime fatigue or drowsiness
- Sudden awakenings with choking or gasping
- Mood disturbances (e.g., anxiety or depression)
- Cognitive impairment, such as irritability or trouble concentrating
- Sexual dysfunction
- Frequent nighttime urination
- Night sweats
Treatment is often dependent on the type of sleep apnea the patient has and the severity of the problem. In mild cases, sleep apnea may be treated with certain lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and a change in sleep positions. Some patients can also benefit from stopping smoking, treating allergies, and not using sleeping pills or alcohol.
In more severe cases of sleep apnea, a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine may be recommended. With CPAP, the patient wears a mask over their mouth or nose while they sleep. The mask is attached to a machine that sends a constant flow of air into the nose to help keep the airways open.
Your dentist may recommend oral appliances to help your sleep apnea. Special dental devices can help keep your airways open while you sleep. Dentists have expertise in treating sleep apnea and can design custom oral appliances for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea and snoring.
When traditional treatments don’t work, surgery may be needed to help open up the airways. At Bonham Dental Arts, we follow the guidelines of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine for the effective treatment of OSA with the use of oral appliances. To learn more, contact Bonham Dental Arts.