What is sleep apnea? Sleep apnea is a common disorder that can cause either a pause in nighttime breathing or very shallow breath patterns. Some people with sleep apnea stop breathing for just a few seconds, but other patients may not breathe for several minutes at a time. Patients with sleep apnea often awake in the middle of the night suddenly with a snore or a start and/or report highly interruptive, fitful sleep. *Did you know - sleep apnea is the leading cause of daytime sleepiness?*
What are the causes of sleep apnea? There are two main types of sleep apnea. The most common type is obstructive apnea, in which the throat muscles relax in such a way that they block or collapses a person’s airways. Imagine how dangerous this can be. The second, less common kind of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea, which could be caused by heart or neuromuscular issues, meaning a person’s body does not send the correct signals during sleep to maintain a regular breathing pattern.
Can sleep apnea be associated with other issues? Yes. Patients with sleep apnea are at an increased risk for heart issues including heart attack, arrhythmia, and stroke. Also hypoxemia, or low oxygen in the blood, occurs when patients get insufficient oxygen during sleep. Diabetes has also been associated with sleep apnea.
Who has sleep apnea? An estimated 18 to 22 millions suffer from sleep apnea--that’s approximately 1 in 15 people. 80 - 90% of sleep apnea patients suffer moderate to severe obstruction and are undiagnosed.
What are some available treatments for sleep apnea? The good news is that sleep apnea is highly treatable. Talk to your doctor or dentist to learn more about these possible treatment options for patients with sleep apnea:
1. Lifestyle changes - For patients who are overweight, a change is diet and and increase in exercise can help with sleep apnea. For those who smoke, decreasing, or if at all possible, ceasing smoking can have a wondrous effect on breathing. Some patients additionally adjust their pillows and sleeping positions to facilitate easy, supported breathing.
2. Breathing devices - Most people hear the phrase “breathing devices” and they immediately conjure up images of heavy hospital machines or the Darth Vadar masks. Fortunately, sleep apnea breathing devices have come a long way, and can be very light, inconspicuous, and portable. There are several kinds of devices, which have varying methods of airflow and types of available pressures. Examples are machines with continuous positive airway pressure, adaptive servo-ventilation, and bilevel positive airway pressure.
3. Oral appliances / mouth guards - These products can have a varying degree of effectiveness--depending on fit and customization. If a patient is not properly fitted for an oral appliance by a medical or dental practitioner, it is unlikely this method will be effective as it may not be treating all, or the correct, causes of apnea. When fitted correctly, oral appliances can be extremely helpful in holding the jaw at the correct angle to avoid pauses in breathing. Ask your dentist to show you a sample of an oral appliance, and ask if it could be right for you.
4. Therapies - There are many therapies that can benefit those with sleep apnea. Breathing (or some music teachers would tell you vocal) exercises can strengthen the throat muscles. There are many fun exercises that you can do alone in the mirror, or with your spouse or children on car rides or while waiting in line at the movies. Oxygen treatments during the day can make up for low levels of oxygen caused by a long night of shallow breathing. Additional holistic therapies are often used in conjunction with breathing devices and/or recommendations for lifestyle changes.
5. Surgery - If no other options have worked, surgery can be an option for serious apnea sufferers. Surgery is not usually proffered as an immediate solution, and usually is only suggested by dental and/or medical practitioners after several months of other (combinations of) unsuccessful treatments.
Do you think you may have sleep apnea? Call your doctor today to talk about options. Are you looking for treatments? Call us to schedule a consultation about available options, customized for you.