Effects of Sleep Apnea

snoring man

Does your partner complain that you snore heavily when you sleep? Do you wake up regularly feeling unrested, sometimes and with a headache? Do you feel tired during the day? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you could be suffering from sleep apnea.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a very common condition that is estimated to affect as many as 22 million Americans, although many mild and moderate cases tend to go undiagnosed as the symptoms as relatively easy to ignore.

Sleep apnea is the term used to describe an interruption in the normal pattern of breathing while you sleep. There are two types of sleep apnea, the first of which is caused by neurological impairment that means that the patient’s brain doesn’t tell the body to breathe. However, this type of sleep apnea is rare. The most common variety of the condition is obstructive sleep apnea, also known as OSA.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissue at the back of the throat falls across the airway and partially or fully blocks it. This causes the sufferer to experience an interruption in their regular passage of breathing. The body then recognizes this interruption and sends a message to the patient’s body to take a larger breath than normal to push past the obstruction. In severe cases of sleep apnea, a patient may experience as many as 100 episodes during a regular 8 hours of sleep.

The effects of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea doesn’t only affect your ability to enjoy a deep, rhythmic breathing pattern while you sleep that enables you to feel rested. When left untreated, it can actually pose a number of other health risks. These include:

- Acid reflux. Many patients who suffer from sleep apnea are also diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) which causes pain in the chest known as heartburn.

- Asthma

- Depression. People with sleep apnea are more commonly diagnosed with depression.

- High blood pressure

- Heart problems, including heart disease and heart failure.

- Brain fog, which can interrupt your day to day life and make even the simplest tasks confusing and frustrating.

- Lack of libido

- Low blood oxygen levels

- Memory loss

- Weakened immune system, which could make you susceptible to illness and infection. You may also be more likely to suffer complications after some medical treatments.

- Fatigue. Being tired during the day can affect your ability to work and perform other day to day tasks.

- High blood sugar levels, putting you at increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

- High cholesterol, which is a marker for heart disease.

- Liver problems

How do I know if I have sleep apnea?

If you do not sleep in the same room as someone else, it may be difficult to determine if you have sleep apnea. However, there are some symptoms that could point to the condition. These include:

- Headaches in the morning

- Waking yourself up because you are snoring so loudly

- Waking up a lot during the night

- Waking up with a very sore or dry throat

- Waking up feeling like you are choking

- Feeling extremely tired when you wake up

- Feeling tired during the day

- Irritability

- Decreased sex drive

- Brain fog, confusion and finding it hard to perform simple tasks

- Memory loss

Treatment for sleep apnea

Thankfully, once you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, there are a range of different treatments available. Which is right for you will depend on the severity of your condition.

Lifestyle changes are by far the most effective form of treatment. This is because OSA is more likely to occur in people who are overweight or obese, as they have excess fat and skin around their face and neck. Positive lifestyle changes that you can make including losing weight, stopping smoking and limiting your alcohol consumption. The latter is because alcohol is a natural relaxant and drinking too much before bed could cause your muscles to relax too far and cause the airway to become blocked, especially if you are already carrying excess weight.

Other forms of treatment include mandibular advancement devices (MADs) which are similar to gum shields and are used to hold the jaw and tongue forward to increase the space at the back of the throat, and CPAP machines. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure and involves a mask delivering positive pressure into the airway being worn over the face. This is most often recommended for patients suffering from severe sleep apnea and wearing the mask can take some getting used to!

Some people get confused as to whether they should visit a doctor or dentist to discuss sleep apnea. Our dentists have the training and experience necessary to be able to diagnose OSA and help you find a treatment plan that alleviates your symptoms and helps to you to breathe more easily again. Contact us today to arrange an appointment.