The Causes and Consequences of Sleep Apnea

That old mattress you are sleeping on or loud noises might not be the reason why you never seem to get a good night’s sleep. It could be because you are suffering from sleep apnea.

Seeking treatment for sleep apnea will not only help you sleep better, but it will improve your overall health. Continue reading to learn more about sleep apnea and discover how our dentists at Pike & Valega, DDS in Rockville, Maryland can help you get proper treatment for this sleep disorder.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea causes your breathing to start and stop while you are sleeping.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA). Each type of sleep apnea occurs for different reasons.

With obstructive sleep apnea, a narrowing or closure of your airway causes your breathing to start and stop. While you are sleeping, the muscles located in the back of your throat start to relax. As these muscles relax, it causes a narrowing or closure of the airway. This prevents you from being able to get enough air.

There are a number of causes of obstructive sleep apnea. Some of the most common causes of obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Anatomically small airways
  • Chronic nasal congestion or narrowing of the sinuses
  • Excessive weight
  • Smoking
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Deviated septum or other structural problems with the nose
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Allergies
  • Medical conditions that can cause the upper airways to constrict or narrow

Central sleep apnea is more of a neurological disorder and is less common than obstructive sleep apnea. It occurs as a result of your brain’s inability to send the right signals to the muscles responsible for helping you breathe. Without the brain telling these muscles to work, you will suddenly stop breathing for a short period of time.

Central sleep apnea is usually caused by other medical conditions. Some examples of medical conditions that may cause central sleep apnea include:

  • Heart failure
  • Strokes
  • Neurological disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer’s and ALS
  • Kidney failure
  • Hypothyroidism

It is possible for a person to suffer from both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

For this blog, we will focus on obstructive sleep apnea because that is the type of sleep apnea that can be treated with the help of the dentists at Pike & Valega, DDS.

Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Some of the most common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Snoring – Snoring with obstructive sleep apnea tends to be louder than “regular” snoring
  • Suddenly being woken up in the middle of the night feeling out of breath or as if you can’t breathe
  • Suddenly stopping or starting breathing while sleeping
  • Gasping for breath while sleeping
  • Extreme dry mouth
  • Waking up with a headache
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty concentrating or experiencing memory issues
  • Excessive daytime drowsiness
  • Never feeling fully rested
  • Mood changes – feeling extremely anxious, depressed or irritable

Many of the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea occur while you are sleeping. This makes it difficult to know if you suffer from this condition as you may be unaware that you are experiencing these symptoms.

The Dangers of Not Treating Sleep Apnea

At first glance, sleep apnea might not seem to be that dangerous. After all, it is just a few brief seconds that you stop breathing and you usually wake yourself up. However, if sleep apnea isn’t treated, it increases your risk of experiencing severe, potentially life-threatening health problems.

Some of the problems that could occur if sleep apnea is left untreated include:

  • Diabetes
  • Sudden cardiac event – heart attacks or strokes
  • Asthma
  • Depression
  • Difficulty with memory or concentration
  • Cardiovascular diseases such as atrial fibrillation and heart failure
  • Glaucoma
  • Severe daytime drowsiness

Treatment Options for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

There are a number of treatment options available for people who suffer from sleep apnea. The most popular treatment option is one you can get with the help of your dentist: an oral dental appliance.

An oral dental appliance looks like an athletic mouthguard or a nightguard. When it is worn, it carefully repositions your lower jaw. With your lower jaw in its proper position, the airways may not narrow or close.

Oral dental appliances are a popular treatment option for sleep apnea for a number of reasons. Some of the reasons include:

  • Cost effective
  • No loud noises or bulky machines
  • Comfortable – oral dental appliances are custom-made

For severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea, you may need to use a CPAP machine instead of an oral dental appliance. Our dentists at Pike & Valega, DDS can discuss treatment options with you to help you determine the best course of treatment for you.

Sometimes a CPAP machine and an oral dental appliance can be used together to treat your sleep apnea. In these types of situations, our dental team will work with sleep specialists to create a comprehensive treatment plan.

Proper Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea is Necessary to Find the Best Treatment

In some situations, our dentists may be able to diagnose sleep apnea with just a regular dental exam or some simple x-rays of the neck and jaw. However, a sleep study is often the most accurate and reliable method of testing for sleep apnea. If our dentists feel a sleep study is necessary, we can provide appropriate referrals to local sleep specialists who will conduct this type of testing.

How your sleep apnea is treated will depend on a number of factors including the type of sleep apnea you have, what is causing it, and how severe it is. In order to find the best treatment for your sleep apnea, the dentists at Pike & Valega, DDS work closely with local sleep specialists who can conduct additional testing to help determine that cause and severity of your sleep apnea.

A Better Night’s Sleep is Waiting for You in the Future

Pike & Valega, DDS has experience helping patients find the best treatment for sleep apnea. If you suspect you suffer from sleep apnea, we encourage you to call our office to schedule an appointment to discuss treatment options.

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