Do you feel drowsy during the day? Do you have morning headaches? Have you been told you snore loudly? Do you wake up in the middle of the night trying to catch your breath? Are you feeling depressed? Do you have high blood pressure? If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, or you answered ‘Yes’ for your bed partner, you may be one of twelve million Americans affected by sleep apnea.
What is sleep apnea? How do I know if I have sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition in which breathing stops during sleep, leading to oxygen deprivation. Essentially, the person suffering from sleep apnea is suffocating during sleep. There are three categories of sleep apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea, Central Sleep Apnea and Complex Sleep Apnea. In obstructive apneas, the tissues of the airway collapses, restricting or completely cutting off breathing. In central apneas, the brain fails to tell the body to breathe, or in the rare cases, it is caused by heart failure. Complex apneas are obstructive apneas that convert to central apneas usually complicated by narcotics use. An overnight sleep study and evaluation by a board certified sleep medicine physician are required to properly diagnose your sleep apnea. However, if you have any of the following, you may be at risk for obstructive sleep apnea:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Loud snoring
- Witnessed apneas
- Depression or other mood disorders
- Age > 65
- Hypothyroid (severe)
- High blood pressure Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Obese Pregnancy
- Excessive alcohol, sedative and/or narcotic use
- Large tonsils
What happens if my sleep apnea is untreated?
Sleep apnea that is untreated can put you at risk for a variety of problems:
- Increased risk for heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular problems
- Depression, anxiety, difficulty coping with stress
- Difficulty controlling diabetes due to insulin resistance
- Difficulty controlling hypertension
- Weight gain from eating to stay alert
- Excess auto accidents due to sleepiness—a 7x greater risk!
- Harder to control pain, as in the case of fibromyalgia and even TMJ/TMD pain
- Sleep apnea kills, not just due to sleep deprivation, but from sleep pathology: your body is subjected to repeated bursts of adrenaline as you suffocate dozens if not hundreds of times during the night.
How is sleep apnea treated?
Traditionally, tracheostomy was the only definitive treatment for sleep apnea—but no one liked having a hole cut in their throat in order to breathe. Fortunately, science has advanced. Now the “gold standard” of sleep apnea treatment is positive airway pressure. The most common device is called a CPAP, which stands for “continuous positive airway pressure” device. This machine creates an “air splint” to keep your airway from collapsing during the night. Other treatments include changing sleep positions, modest weight loss, and surgery (such as removing large tonsils) to enlarge the airway space. Bariatric surgery is very effective in severely obese patients to help with weight loss to eliminate sleep apnea. Reducing the use of alcohol, sedatives and narcotics is also an effective treatment method. Finally, oral appliances have been approved by the FDA to treat mild obstructive sleep apnea or patients who are intolerant of CPAP. Often oral appliances can be used in conjunction with CPAP therapy to help patients who previously could not tolerate the higher pressures of the CPAP. This “co-therapy” may provide you with the best outcome. Oral appliances also treat benign snoring in the absence of sleep apnea.
If you suspect you or your family member may suffer from sleep apnea, or you have any questions about sleep apnea, please give us a call. We can refer you to a sleep apnea specialist for a precise diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Depending on your situation, we can custom-make an oral appliance to treat your sleep apnea or snoring problem. Call our office at (206) 622-5661 for an appointment.