Recognizing and Treating Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a common problem—more than most people realize. Many American adults have sleep apnea but haven’t been diagnosed, and therefore don’t get treatment. Lack of sleep can lead to poor health, increased accident risk, and other serious issues. It’s important to understand the risks and realities of life with sleep apnea and to seek diagnosis and treatment if you think you might be affected.
Poor Sleep Quality
The most immediate result of having sleep apnea is poor sleep quality. Because the airway is blocked, you are deprived of oxygen, and that causes you to wake up. In mild cases of sleep apnea, this happens a few times a night, and in the most severe cases, it happens dozens of times every hour.
If you have sleep apnea, you may find it very hard to get restful sleep. You don’t feel refreshed when you wake up and often feel increasingly tired as the day goes on. Poor sleep quality is an ongoing problem that has many side effects.
Health Risks and Side Effects
Over time, the oxygen deprivation and lack of sleep caused by sleep apnea can become problematic.
- Loss of sleep affects mood, leading to increased irritability, mood swings, anxiety, and depression.
- Lack of sleep leads to daytime sleepiness that increases accident risk. The risk of accidents at work or home, driving accidents, and other hazardous situations are increased.
- Oxygen deprivation puts great strain on the cardiovascular system, and health in general. Over time this leads to an increased risk of heart disease, reflux disease, diabetes, stroke, and heart attack.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
The realities of life with sleep apnea may seem foreboding. Still, there is one other important reality: sleep apnea is a treatable condition, and with the right equipment, the symptoms and side effects of sleep apnea can be reduced or even eliminated.
There are two effective ways to treat sleep apnea. One is with continuous positive airway pressure or the CPAP machine. The sleeper wears a mask over the face, attached to a hose and a motorized unit. When you wear the mask, a supply of gently pressurized air moves continually through your airway. Your airway remains open, ensuring you get enough oxygen when you’re asleep.
The second treatment is an oral device that you wear for sleeping. It holds your jaw or tongue in a better position to help your airway stay open when you sleep. It’s suitable for those with mild sleep apnea, and for people who snore. This device is an oral appliance you can get from your dentist after an evaluation and sleep study test.
Oral Appliances for Comfort
Oral appliances are often more comfortable and affordable than the alternative treatment offered by a CPAP machine. Many find this machine bulky, noisy, and uncomfortable. It can be cumbersome to transport when traveling and disruptive to the sleep of your partner.
A CPAP machine relies on an air compressor and tubes that are difficult to clean. A large nose piece also leaves many patients feeling claustrophobic and unable to sleep peacefully.
Oral Appliances for Convenience and Comfort
Anti-Snoring Devices or Mandibular Repositioning Devices (MADs) are custom designed to keep the lower jaw in a forward position so that it doesn’t close during sleep. The device prevents the airway from collapsing and prevents obstruction from occurring. It may also reduce and possibly eliminate snoring. There are several advantages to wearing an oral appliance to treat sleep apnea:
- They won’t dry out nasal passages
- No awkward tubes to impede your sleep
- Works just as well in the presence of nasal congestion
- Does not make noise
- Easy to transport
- Easy to clean
If you suspect you may have obstructive sleep apnea or have already been diagnosed with OSA, you can turn to your dentist for solutions. There are hundreds of FDA-approved oral appliances available that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends as the first line of treatment for those with mild to moderate sleep apnea.