Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder which causes a person to stop breathing while they’re asleep. Sounds scary? It is. Untreated sleep apnea can be the cause of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, weight gain, headaches, and memory problems. These sleep interruptions and lack of quality sleep can lead to severe sleep deprivation, something that is particularly dangerous when a person is behind the wheel and detrimental on the job. Sleep apnea, however, is easily diagnosed and treated, and your dentist is often the best resource for this condition.
Understanding Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most prevalent form of sleep apnea. Anywhere from a few to hundreds of times a night, a person may stop breathing in their sleep which partially awakens them. The body regulates itself to begin breathing again, but that all-important deep sleep is interrupted.
In obstructive sleep apnea, which can range from mild to moderate to severe, a person’s airways become partially or completely blocked during sleep, typically by their tongue and throat tissues. When air cannot move beyond these obstructions, blood flow to the brain is reduced and the body partially awakens from sleep, often gasping or choking while taking a deep breath. This process repeats itself throughout the night.
Loud and disruptive snoring is also a sign of sleep apnea, as well as excessive daytime sleepiness, and depression and irritability. Restless and fitful sleep prevents a person from getting enough REM sleep to feel fully rested.
Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
There are a variety of reasons why a person might develop sleep apnea:
- Genetics: Some people are simply built with a narrow throat or enlarged tongue, which increases their likelihood of obstructive sleep apnea.
- Obesity: Individuals who are overweight are more likely to have sleep apnea due to excessive fatty tissues in the neck and throat.
- Age: As you get older, muscle tone is lost, even the muscles in the throat. This weakening of the muscles can lead to a collapse of the muscles into the throat during sleep.
- Alcohol use: Frequent alcohol use relaxes the muscles in the body, including throat muscles, making sleep apnea a greater possibility.
- Smoking: Smoking cigarettes can create inflammation in the airways which can get in the way of proper airflow during sleep.
- Enlarged tonsils: While children are most likely to be bothered by enlarged tonsils or adenoids, adults who never had this problem tended to at a younger age could develop obstructive sleep apnea as a result.
Treatment of Sleep Apnea
While positive airway pressure therapy, or PAP therapy, is a common treatment for sleep apnea, some people may suffer from such a severe case that surgery may be necessary. More often than not, however, an oral appliance – provided by your Red Bank Dentist – will help control sleep apnea so that your health and rest are not in jeopardy.
Sleep apnea mouth guards are customized to fit over upper and lower teeth, realigning the position of the jaw and tongue in the process to keep a person’s airway open and to keep them breathing properly for a good night’s sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea could be considered as a mechanical problem, which is why the oral appliance is so successful in treating the issue. Learn more about sleep apnea treatment and get a proper diagnosis. Make an appointment with Dr. Carole Sherrod Jewell in Red Bank, New Jersey.