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10 Signs of Sleep Apnea

According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, approximately 22 million people suffer from sleep apnea. This disorder causes you to temporarily stop breathing while you’re sleeping. Learn more about sleep apnea and find out how your dentist can help you.

Three Types of Sleep Apnea

The most common type of sleep apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It occurs when there is a blockage in the airway, which is usually caused by the soft tissue in the back of your throat collapsing and closing while you’re sleeping.

Central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs when the brain stops sending signals to the muscles that are responsible for breathing. Unlike OSA, there isn’t a physical blockage that interrupts breathing. CSA commonly occurs in people with specific medical problems that damage the lower brain stem and those who use narcotics.

Mixed sleep apnea occurs when a patient has a combination of OSA and CSA. While there is still more to learn about mixed sleep apnea, it usually starts as OSA but continues even after the blockage is removed.

Sleep Apnea Risk Factors

Sleep apnea can affect anyone at any age. However, some people are at an increased risk due to certain risk factors. These people include those with the following characteristics:

  • Excessive weight or being obese
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol use
  • Men are two to three times more likely to develop sleep apnea, but the risk for women increases after menopause.
  • Family history of sleep apnea
  • Naturally narrow airways
  • Large neck circumference

What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea can cause a variety of symptoms depending on which type you have, and not everyone will have the same symptoms. However, the following ten symptoms are some of the most common.

  • Excessive sleepiness during the day: Most people with sleep apnea have no memory of waking up frequently throughout the night. However, pauses in breathing during sleep heavily affects REM sleep. This causes you to feel sleepy throughout the day, even if you think you slept for a full eight hours.
  • Snoring: Snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea. It occurs when air flows past the relaxed soft tissues in your throat, causing them to vibrate.
  • Gasping or choking yourself awake: Once your brain senses that you can’t breathe, it forces you awake so you can start taking in air. This might cause you to choke or gasp upon waking up.
  • Episodes of breathlessness during sleep: You might not be aware of it, but many people with sleep apnea briefly stop breathing during sleep. If a loved one or partner tells you that your breathing pauses while you’re sleeping, you might have sleep apnea.
  • Dry mouth or sore throat: Many people with sleep apnea sleep with their mouths open, causing dry, sore throats when they wake up.
  • Morning headaches: A morning headache can occur from low oxygen levels and lack of adequate sleep during the night.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Sleep apnea sufferers often struggle with concentration and focus during the day, usually caused by a lack of quality sleep.
  • Decreased sex drive: Research has shown that sleep apnea can cause a reduction in hormones, such as testosterone. This can cause a noticeable decrease in libido.
  • Changes in mood: Some studies have found changes in specific brain chemicals responsible for regulating emotions in people with sleep apnea. This may explain why you might feel irritable or cranky during the day.
  • High blood pressure: Although high blood pressure is also a risk factor for sleep apnea, it can also be a symptom of the frequent reduction in blood oxygen levels that occurs with sleep apnea.

Complications of Sleep Apnea

If you don’t receive treatment for sleep apnea, your brain and the rest of your body may not receive enough oxygen. You may begin to suffer from sleep deprivation if your sleep is frequently interrupted for an extended period of time. According to the Mayo Clinic, people with untreated sleep apnea are at an increased risk of car accidents and workplace accidents.

Lack of sleep can affect your performance at work and school, and it can also affect the quality of sleep that your partner receives.

Untreated sleep apnea can also increase your risk of numerous health problems, including type 2 diabetes, liver problems, stroke, heart attack, and depression.

How Your Dentist Can Help

Your dentist can help treat sleep apnea, but a diagnosis must be made first. This usually requires a sleep study, which may be conducted at a sleep clinic or in your own home. Once diagnosed, your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you.

A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is one of the most common treatment options for sleep apnea. A CPAP is a device that delivers air through your mouth and nose, helping you receive enough oxygen and keep your airway open while sleeping. You’ll sleep with a mask that covers your nose and mouth.

Oral appliance therapy is another treatment option for sleep apnea. An oral appliance is very similar to a mouth guard, and it’s worn while sleeping to help keep your airway open. Your dentist can fit you for a custom-made oral appliance that fits the unique shape of your mouth. Many people with sleep apnea prefer an oral appliance to a CPAP machine since they’re more comfortable, but oral appliance therapy isn’t recommended for all types of sleep apnea. Your dentist and doctor will work together to come up with an effective treatment plan for you.

Now that you know how sleep apnea can negatively affect your health, there’s never been a better time to receive the treatment you need. Schedule an appointment with our dentist right away if you think you may have sleep apnea. During your consultation, your dentist will carefully listen to your symptoms, assess your risk factors, and provide the assistance you need to sleep better. You’ll receive the care you need to dramatically improve your sleep quality and reduce your risk of serious health problems. Don’t wait to make your appointment!

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