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10 Signs of Sleep Apnea

Did you know that an estimated 22 million people in America have sleep apnea? Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes you to involuntarily stop breathing while you’re sleeping. If you leave sleep apnea untreated, it can lead to a number of health problems. However, having knowledge of the signs and symptoms will help you to know when to look for help. Here is a brief overview into sleep apnea and how a dentist can help you.

The Different Types of Sleep Apnea

  1. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This type of sleep apnea happens when the upper airway is partially or totally blocked by throat muscles that become overly relaxed. This forces the chest muscles to work harder than normal so that air can be forced through the blockage and into the lungs. The pauses that occur during this process tend to last just a few seconds, but those few seconds quickly add up, with many sufferers experiencing up to 30 pauses an hour while they are sleeping. OSA seems to impact men more often than women.
  2. Central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs when a person has a lack of respiration due to the way that the brain functions. This most frequently occurs when a person has damage to his or her lower brain stem from either an injury or from an illness such as Parkinson’s disease.
  3. Another type of sleep apnea is mixed or complex sleep apnea. This is diagnosed when a person has a combination of symptoms found in OSA and CSA. While the exact cause of this type of sleep apnea is unknown, it often begins as a physical blockage (OSA) and then continues to occur after the physical obstruction has been eliminated.

What Are the Risk Factors and Known Causes of Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea can affect anyone, no matter their age. Certain demographics of people are more likely to develop this problem due to lifestyle choices, underlying medical issues and physical attributes.

  • People who are overweight are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea. This is because of excess fat around the upper airways.
  • Smokers are also at a higher risk. This is due to the fact that smoking weakens the muscles around the airways.
  • While sleep apnea isn’t the cause of chronic nasal congestion, it frequently shows up at around the same time.
  • Patients with sleep apnea often have high blood pressure.
  • Men are at twice the risk of having OSA, although women who are postmenopausal are also at risk.
  • Issues like naturally narrow airways, asthma and enlarged adenoids also increase your risk of OSA.

What Are the Common Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

The symptoms of sleep apnea can vary depending on the type that you have. The most common symptoms are as follows:

1.  Feeling excessively sleepy throughout the day
If you haven’t been getting a good night’s sleep, it’s difficult to feel alert and refreshed throughout your day. While you may not remember waking up, the frequent brief pauses in your breathing due to sleep apnea keep you from falling into REM sleep, leaving you feeling disoriented and groggy without knowing why.

2. Snoring
As the air fights to make its way past a partially obstructed airway, it can rattle, causing the muscles and tissue to move. This is what causes snoring.

3. Choking or gasping yourself awake
Once your brain is aware that it isn’t taking in oxygen, it will prod your body into breathing. The gasping or choking that occurs may go unnoticed, or it may be a large enough response to startle yourself awake.

4. Experiencing breathlessness during sleep
If your partner has noticed that there are long pauses in between your breaths during the night, or if he or she has witnessed you gasping for air in your sleep, you may have sleep apnea.

5. Dry mouth and/or sore throat
If you have sleep apnea, you may sleep with your mouth open due to the amount of time you spend trying to draw in air. This can lead to dry mouth and a sore throat.

6. Headaches in the morning
The low oxygen levels and the lack of sleep caused by sleep apnea can lead to you having headaches when you wake up in the morning.

7. Difficulty concentrating
The inability to properly go into REM sleep due to sleep apnea can cause you to struggle with your focus and concentration during the day.

8. Decreased sex drive
Recent studies indicate that sleep apnea can cause a drop in hormones such as testosterone. This can lead to a lower libido.

9. Mood changes
While it’s difficult to be in a good mood when you’re always exhausted, studies have shown that sleep apnea can cause structural changes within the brain. Other studies have shown that the chemicals in the brain which regulate emotions can shift as well. These changes can lead you to feel cranky and irritable more often.

10. High blood pressure
People with sleep apnea tend to have higher blood pressure. High blood pressure can also be one of the causes of sleep apnea. High blood pressure can grow worse due to the dips in blood oxygen levels that happen during the night due to interrupted breathing.

Why Should Sleep Apnea Be Treated?

Failing to treat sleep apnea leads to a severe reduction in oxygen levels in the blood. This can lead to an accumulation of carbon dioxide within the body. The longer the pauses in breathing occur (for some people it can be up to 10 seconds each time), the more damage that can be caused to the body.

Not treating your sleep apnea keeps you from resting well during the night. Sleep deprivation can take a severe toll on your body and mind. Those who also have a disease or disorder such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure can experience a worsening in their symptoms of those disorders due to their sleep apnea.

How Can a Local Dentist Help?

While many of us know to go to the dentist when we have a cavity or gum disease, you can also see your dentist to help treat your obstructive sleep apnea.

In order for your dentist to assist you with this problem, you need to be properly diagnosed with OSA. To do this, you will need to have a sleep study performed. This can be done at a clinic or from your own home. This study will provide medical professionals with data that can help them to find the reason why you aren’t sleeping properly at night. If you do have sleep apnea, you will then be able to discuss any treatment options that are available for you.

A common way of treating OSA is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This is a type of therapy that utilizes a machine that pushes air through a face mask that you wear while you sleep. This allows you to receive oxygen without any interruptions. If you fail to breathe for a few seconds, the CPAP machine will do it for you.

Another approach to treatment is oral appliance therapy. This type of therapy consists of your dentist fitting you for a device, similar to a night guard that you will wear whenever you sleep. This device helps to keep the airways open while you sleep. The benefit of this type of treatment is that it is less cumbersome and more portable than a CPAP machine. Your dentist will recommend which type of treatment is best for you.

Don’t Leave Your Sleep Apnea Untreated

Whatever you do, it’s important that you receive treatment for sleep apnea. If you believe that you have this problem, call your dentist and ask for a sleep apnea evaluation. In addition to receiving a complete oral exam, your dentist will be able to help you find the cause behind your lack of sleep at night. To receive compassionate dental care, contact our office to make an appointment with our stellar team today.

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