Sleep Apnea: Know The Warning Signs

Sleep Apnea: Know The Warning Signs

What do you think snoring, chronic fatigue, and mood swings have in common? They’re all warning signs of sleep apnea, an often- undiagnosed sleep disorder in men and women.

The problem with this disorder is that an estimated 85% of patients with this disorder don’t even realize they have it.  In fact, in 2013 a study on shows that diagnoses continue to grow.

A 2013 study shows that the number of people with known sleep apnea continues to grow and affects:

  • 10 percent of males aged 30 to 49, and 17 percent of older men aged 50 to 70.
  • 3 percent of women aged 30 to 49, and 9 percent of older women aged 50 to 70.

These numbers have risen significantly since the early 90’s as the boomer generation ages and obesity rates increase.

What Happens With Sleep Apnea?

With this disorder, your upper airway collapses sporadically through the night interrupting your breathing momentarily.  Sometimes it may be for a mere second, other times it may be for upwards of 30 seconds. The real danger is that it prevents oxygen from reaching your cells and this can happen over a dozen times per night.

Every time your body begins breathing again and recovers normal breathing— you are awakened from your sleep. This deprives you of important brain recovery that occurs in the deeper stages of sleep that are vital for your health. This results in the daytime drowsiness, fatigue and mood swings we’ve discussed.

If you have 15 or more episodes of thin in an hour, it is considered an extreme case. At this level, the health impact is huge and can lead to many other serious conditions. However, most people aren’t even aware that if left untreated, sleep apnea poses greater threats.

Chances of conditions such as heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure increase due to the untreated disorder. In addition to direct consequences, there are indirect ones from the disorder as well. It also raises your chances of a car accident, work accidents, and academic problems. All of these are due to the lack of sleep that comes with this disorder.

Symptoms Can Be Both Mild And Severe

The symptom severity of sleep apnea can vary. In fact, mild cases can be very unpredictable. For example, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. However, snoring is often the first warning sign that leads to a positive diagnosis.

When apnea presents itself mildly, you may notice things like daytime drowsiness, fatigue, or sleep that is not restorative.  You may also wake up with unexplained headaches which are due to the lack of oxygen.

On the other side of the scale, severe cases can startle you from sleep gasping for breath.  It can be a very scary feeling as if you are choking or drowning but without water.

You may notice that you deal with declining performance in studies or the workplace, mood changes, and even depression. In both men and women, it can lead to problems in relationships as well. Problems with sexual performance or depriving your partner of sleep can lead to resentment or fear. Your partner may develop anxiety that you may die in your sleep—the disorder can be quite scary.

It’s Up To You To Talk About Sleep Apnea

You have to be proactive about sleep apnea if you are experiencing some of the warning signs of sleep apnea. It’s not likely that your doctor will bring it up without any information from you. It doesn’t exactly show up in a physical, so it requires you sharing your sleep issues.  Sleep medicine is a very recent specialization and is not a major focus of medical education. Furthermore, doctors are faced with the challenge of detecting more obvious conditions in less time. This means sleep issues are often not even on their radar unless brought to their attention.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

In most cases of sleep apnea, the type that is diagnosed is classified as obstructive sleep apnea. This type occurs when the throat muscles near the back lose tone and collapse, resulting in airway blockage. Typically, obesity and old age are the major risk factors and it’s more often likely with males than females. Alcohol consumption and sleeping on your back can compound and instigate the condition as well.

“In post-menopausal women, sleep apnea in women increases as their hormone levels drop. These hormones result in a more relaxed airway which brings the onset of sleep apnea. The trouble with detection in women is that they often don’t exhibit the common symptoms. They may be petite rather than obese, not complain of snoring, and rarely wake to gasp for breath.  When women do complain of being depressed, it is often attributed to a change in hormone levels and not investigated further. Therefore, it can take women much longer than men to get a solid diagnosis identifying sleep apnea as the problem.

There are indeed other causes of sleep apnea related to physical abnormalities or genetics. Patients with large tonsils or other obstructive tissue in the airway can experience the condition. If there is a family history of sleep apnea—there is a greater chance it occurring as well. In fact, in about 30% of sleep apnea diagnoses, genetics is ruled as the main contributing factor for the disorder.

Treatment Options You May Have Available To You

The good news about this potentially life-shortening disorder is that Sleep apnea is quite treatable. In fact, depending on your specific sleep apnea, there is a broad range of treatment techniques. The gold standard treatment for many years has been a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. However, it’s not always beneficial for all cases, your doctor will be able to determine what is going to likely work best.  In fact, there are several forms of positive airway pressure therapies for patients with varied forms of severe sleep apnea.

Surgery Is Also An Option

When the apnea is mild, some patients have found success with minor day surgery to remove tonsils or tissues blocking their airway.  There are even some revolutionary new treatments such as hypoglossal nerve stimulation. However, it should be noted that its effectiveness is limited to very few cases and might pose other risks.

Did You Know Dentists Treat Sleep Apnea Too?

It’s true, many cases of mild sleep apnea are due to bite and jaw issues, so dentists often treat the disorder.  Dental sleep medicine is a very common part of dentistry that focuses on an oral appliance as a cure. These appliances are most effective at treating mild cases of obstructive sleep apnea, which is the most often diagnosed type.  However, these appliances are also used to aide in normal snoring issues as well.

As you can see, a lot of breathing issues such as sleep apnea are caused due to dental issues. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for dentists to treat these conditions. In fact, they work together with sleep physicians to determine the best treatment for each individual patient. Every case is different, so there is no universal solution. However, as most diagnosed cases are corrected by oral appliances, dentists are an excellent choice for treatment.

Kinard Family Dental—Your Sleep Apnea Specialist

Oral appliance therapy from Kinard is the best treatment for mild obstructive sleep apnea.  The oral appliance is custom fit to your mouth and is only worn when sleeping.  It is minimally invasive and much more comfortable than a CPAP machine. In fact, its fitment can be compared to a mouth guard or a retainer, both common oral appliances.

If you or a loved one is experiencing the symptoms of sleep apnea, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with Dr. Kinard. She can evaluate your individual case and determine if oral appliance therapy will work for you.

Contact us today to get your free consultation!


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