Around twelve million Americans suffer from sleep apnea—a common condition characterized by periodic, temporary interruptions of the breath while sleeping. The length of these interruptions varies from case to case, and can range from a few seconds to a minute or longer. If you or a loved one snores loudly, frequently wakes up breathless, or feels constantly fatigued even after eight hours of rest, sleep apnea may be the cause. In fact, many of our cosmetic dentist’s patients who have received successful treatment for sleep apnea were unaware they were being impacted by the condition. Dr. Santone can help evaluate your symptoms, work with your medical doctor and a medical sleep specialist, who will design a custom treatment plan if her screening discovers sleep apnea is negatively affecting your quality of life.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a pause or cessation in your breathing as you sleep. For some people who suffer from this condition, these interruptions may occur up to 30 times per hour. When you temporarily stop breathing, your brain registers a lack of oxygen and wakes you up momentarily, causing your breathing to resume normally. Since you are woken up for such a brief period of time after these pauses, most people do not remember the interruptions. As a result, the feeling of fatigue after a full night’s sleep may seem confusing. In addition, many people with sleep apnea suffer from extreme drowsiness or headaches during their waking hours.
What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?
There is no one set pattern of symptoms for sleep apnea patients. As a result, if you or a loved one suffers from any combination of the following symptoms, Dr. Santone recommends a thorough evaluation by an experienced professional. The symptoms of this common condition may include:
- Trouble falling asleep or remaining asleep
- Loud snoring
- Shortness of breath in the middle of the night
- Frequent headaches during waking hours
- Extreme drowsiness
- Making choking or snorting sounds while sleeping
Are all cases of sleep apnea the same?
Sleep apnea typically manifests in one of two ways: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or central sleep apnea (CSA). When you have obstructive sleep apnea, the soft tissues within the throat temporarily collapse, which in turn blocks airflow. When you have central sleep apnea, the brain occasionally fails to send the proper signals to the muscles associated with breathing. Some patients may actually suffer from both types of sleep apnea simultaneously.
Am I at risk for sleep apnea?
Though sleep apnea is considered a common condition that affects millions of Americans, there are certain individuals who have a greater risk of developing sleep apnea. Men seem more prone to develop sleep apnea than women, and all adults over the age of 40 are more susceptible. Both men and women who smoke, drink, use certain medications, or have high blood pressure may also be at greater risk. If you or your family has a history of obesity, stroke, brain tumors, heart disorders, or neuromuscular complications, you may also have an increased chance of developing sleep apnea.
Is sleep apnea dangerous?
An episode of sleep apnea may occur as an isolated incident. However, repeated or chronic episodes can be cause for concern. When left untreated, sleep apnea may contribute to high blood pressure and increase the likelihood of heart failure or stroke. Since the condition interrupts your sleep and can prevent you from fully refreshing both your mind and body, sleep apnea often impacts a person’s performance in school or at work. Additionally, depression and sexual dysfunction are common in patients who suffer from untreated sleep apnea. It is especially important to tell your physician if you believe you may have sleep apnea, as the condition poses added risks for patients undergoing surgery or anesthesia.
How can I receive treatment for sleep apnea?
Depending upon your evaluation and the severity of your condition, there are many possible treatment methods for sleep apnea. Many of these treatment methods involve changes in diet, beginning more rigorous exercise habits, or quitting smoking. For some patients, sleeping on their side rather than their back can help reduce the symptoms. Traditionally, a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine worn nightly was the treatment of choice for OSA. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recognized that the CPAP is not tolerated by many patients due to work travel, the machine’s noise, as well as an uncomfortable face mask and therefore studied with dental professionals to provide equally effective alternatives. Customized oral appliances, fabricated by a trained dentist, can help keep your airway open, relaxed, and clear while you sleep. In rare and severe cases, surgery may be recommended.
What if I think a loved one is suffering from sleep apnea?
Very often, our patients at Encinitas Cosmetic Dentistry do not realize they suffer from sleep apnea. Frequently, their partners or family members are the ones who notice these interruptions in sleep. If you suspect that a loved one may have sleep apnea, please contact us today to learn how a sleep study may be beneficial and can ultimately lead to a diagnosis. For those who are diagnosed with sleep apnea, Dr. Santone can develop a custom-tailored treatment plan to help alleviate or eliminate the symptoms and greatly improve their overall quality of life.
For more information on screening for airway obstruction, snoring, or sleep apnea, please contact Dr. Santone today.