If you wake up as tired as when you went to bed, you may suffer from sleep apnea. Characterized by short lapses in breathing, sleep apnea affects an estimated 12 million Americans. Although sleep apnea can seem like just a mild annoyance, this condition has been linked with other health concerns high blood pressure, heart disease, memory problems, and daytime drowsiness.
Defining Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which the patient experiences shallow breathing or pauses in breathing during sleep. These pauses can occur several times during sleep, leading to health complications and lifestyle hindrances.
Because sleep apnea can impact other areas of your life, it’s important to take any symptoms seriously. If you suspect sleep apnea, talk to your dentist or physician about having a complete exam. Often, your doctor will recommend a sleep study to help confirm sleep apnea. Common symptoms of sleep apnea can include:
The four types of sleep apnea are:
Factors that Influence Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is caused when soft tissue in the airway relaxes. Usually, OSA occurs because of changes in muscle tone, increase in the soft tissue due to obesity, and structure issues with the skull and face. Obese people are at a great risk for OSA because they carry more muscle and tissue mass. Over 50 percent of those who have Down’s syndrome suffer from OSA, brought on by poor muscle tone, narrow nasopharynx, and a large tongue. Nasal congestion and alcohol consumption can also contribute to OSA. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids are the most common causes of obstructive sleep apnea in children. Obstructive sleep apnea can also occur as a part of the natural aging process when the brain’s capacity to transmit instructions telling the throat muscles to maintain rigidity decreases.
Central sleep apnea often accompanies a medical condition and is rarely found in healthy individuals. Since the brainstem controls breathing, any medical condition involving that part of the brain can cause central sleep apnea. Cardiovascular conditions, neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, advanced arthritis, and encephalitis are some medical conditions that can trigger central sleep apnea.
The Importance of Treatment
Complications from sleep apnea can include inattentiveness at work, tiredness, risk of accidents, mood swings, high blood pressure and erectile dysfunction. Sleep apnea can also increase the risk of congestive heart failure and stroke. It can lead to difficulty in the treatment processes for conditions such as arterial fibrillation. Children affected by sleep apnea can be hyperactive, high strung, aggressive, and prone to bed wetting. They may have also unusual sleeping positions. Overall, a person suffering from sleep apnea experiences deterioration in the quality of life.
Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
To look for sleep apnea, a dentist or physician can recommend diagnostic testing, particularly if the patient is suffering from conditions such as high blood pressure, heart failure, and epilepsy. Physical examination for adults includes measuring for a wide neck, looking for enlarged tonsils, and assessing upper body obesity. In evaluating children, doctors check for enlarged adenoids and determine if the child has attention deficit issues.
Doctors use the patient’s medical and sleep history in diagnosing sleep apnea. Symptoms such as drowsiness, headaches, heartburn, and patient medications can influence the diagnosis. A sleep study, where the patient is monitored in a sleep lab, can also help determine an individual has sleep apnea. When testing rules out sleep apnea, then the patient must be evaluated for other potential sleep disorders.
Treating Sleep Apnea
After a diagnosis of sleep apnea, your doctor will review treatment surgical and non-surgical options. Non-surgical treatments include medications, behavioral changes, dental appliances, and use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP).