Do you have sleep apnea? Maybe. The American Sleep Apnea Association states that approximately 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea and that 80% of moderate and severe cases are undiagnosed. That’s a lot of people suffering from a serious medical condition who don’t even realize it.
Identifying and Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea occurs when the breath stops flowing at during sleep. These pauses (apnea) can last from several seconds up to a minute or more and prevent the body and brain from getting the oxygen they need. The long-term effects of untreated sleep apnea include heart attack, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, and reduced life span.
One telltale sign of sleep apnea is frequent pauses during the breath at night. The other telltale sign is excessively loud snoring which may be accompanied by snorting or choking sounds as the breath starts flowing again. Many people find out that they have a problem after a bed partner tells them about their loud snoring.
Other signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Waking gasping for air
- Morning headaches
- Daytime sleepiness
- Poor memory
- Impaired cognition
- Decreased libido
To get a diagnosis of sleep apnea, you must undergo a sleep study, which you can talk to your doctor about. This will also determine which type of sleep apnea you have, whether central (caused by a problem with the way the brain communicates to the body during sleep), obstructive (or OSA, caused by a blockage somewhere in the airway), or mixed, also called complex (a combination of the first two).
Getting Relief from Sleep Apnea
Treatment for sleep apnea depends on what the underlying cause is. There are many, but here are some well-known treatments:
Lifestyle changes like losing weight, quitting smoking, and avoiding alcohol and sedatives before bedtime can help alleviate some cases of OSA.
Orthodontic treatment, typically done with the use of an oral appliance, is effective in cases where OSA results from issues with the jaw or something else occurring in the mouth.
Surgery to remove adenoids or tonsils blocking the airway, which is the most common cause of sleep apnea in children, or surgery to reduce the amount of tissue in the airway for adults, is another option for more severe OSA.
Machines such as the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine keep the airway open and breath flowing to treat obstructive and central sleep apnea.
Take Snoring Seriously
Humans can go 40 days without water. Eight days without food. But only a few minutes without air. Just think about how sleep apnea stresses the body every single night as it struggles to get the oxygen it needs. No wonder sleep apnea is associated with such severe medical conditions and is linked to a reduced life span.
If you believe you might have sleep apnea, see a doctor about it ASAP and if you’re in the Chicago area, come see us at the TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centre of Chicago to learn more. You can also learn more about our effort to improve quality of life in our book, “Breathe, Eat, Live, Smile,” here.