Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing sometimes hundreds of times per night, and sometimes for a minute or longer. When you breathe normally, the air you breathe passes through your nose into the back of your throat. When you’re awake your muscles hold your airway open. When you are asleep, your muscles relax and your airway should remain open, but if you have sleep apnea, your airway becomes blocked and causes your oxygen levels in your brain and blood to drop. This can happen repeatedly during your sleep and can sometimes occur up to hundreds of times a night.
Left untreated, sleep apnea can result in serious consequences, including, but not limited to:
- Drowsy driving
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Automobile accidents
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are three types of sleep apnea, they are:
- Obstructive sleep apnea
This is the most common form of sleep apnea. It happens when the soft tissue at the back of your throat closes, causing your airway to become blocked or obstructed.
- Central sleep apnea
With central sleep apnea, your airway remains open but your brain doesn’t send signals to your breathing muscles.
- Mixed sleep apnea
This type of sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
The signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apnea overlap making it difficult to determine which type of sleep apnea you have. The most common symptoms of either form include::
- Loud snoring
- Episodes where you stop breathing during sleep — which is noticed by another person
- Gasping for air while you are asleep
- Waking up in the morning with a dry mouth
- An early morning headache
- Daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty paying attention when awake
A sleep study conducted in either a sleep laboratory or at home can definitively diagnose sleep apnea and its severity.
Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea
Anyone, even children, can have sleep apnea. But certain factors increase your risk.
Patients with sleep apnea typically have the following underlying conditions in common:
- A large tongue and tonsils
- They are obese
- They may have cardiovascular problems
- Post-menopausal women
- Family history
- Use of alcohol, sedatives, tranquilizers
- Nasal congestion
- Medical condition
Treatment of Sleep Apnea
A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is typically recommended if your sleep apnea is moderate to severe. The CPAP machine delivers air pressure with a mask you wear while you are sleeping. It provides enough air to keep your upper airway open and prevent apnea and snoring.
Another option is oral appliance therapy. Depending on the severity of your sleep apnea, dentists with training in oral-appliance therapy can determine which appliance may be best suited for your condition. By working with your medical doctor, your dentist can help with your treatment and care. You may have to try a few different devices to find the one that works for you and you will need to follow up with your dentist to ensure that the fit of your appliance is good and working properly.