Learning How to Navigate Life with Sleep Apnea

Did you know that there are bacteria and other single-celled organisms—even one animal—that don’t need oxygen to live? Amazing, right? Oxygen is so vital to our lives that it’s hard to imagine! Even simply not getting enough oxygen can cause serious health complications for us. This is why sleep apnea, which translates to “sleep without breath,” is such a serious health concern. It causes you to periodically stop breathing in your sleep, lowering your oxygen levels and producing a wide range of symptoms. The condition also increases your risk of developing other health issues over time.

If you don’t know much about sleep apnea, you might find yourself wondering what causes this in the first place. After all, isn’t breathing hard-wired into our brains and bodies so well that we have to consciously remember to stop breathing? Generally, you’d be right, but it disrupts this process in one way or another. How it goes about doing this depends upon which type of condition you have, as each of the three types has a different cause. Receiving the news that you have or may have sleep apnea can be concerning, but having a diagnosis is actually good news! This is because it’s very treatable. To help you learn more about the condition and how to navigate life with it, here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about the three types of this condition.

What are the three types of sleep apnea?

The three types of sleep apnea are obstructive, central, and mixed. They’re differentiated by what causes your symptoms, but obstructive sleep apnea is the most common. The obstructive condition is when your airway becomes blocked at night, preventing you from breathing. This is often the result of muscles relaxing too much when you fall asleep, causing the soft tissues in the back of your throat to collapse or your tongue to fall back slightly in your mouth. With central sleep apnea, the root problem is actually in your brain instead of your airway. Your brain is meant to send signals to your muscles to tell them to move so you can breathe, but this type of the condition is when it fails to send these signals. True to its name, mixed sleep apnea is a combination of the other two types.

What are the symptoms?

Snoring is commonly associated with sleep apnea—and for good reason. Most people who have this condition snore, but not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. There are other symptoms that you can look out for, though, including gasping for air, clenching or grinding your teeth, or a pause in breathing that lasts 10 to 30 seconds during sleep. Your partner is more likely than you to notice any of these symptoms.. Since all types of sleep apnea require your body to wake you up slightly to restore breathing patterns, they also keep you from getting deep sleep even if you’re going to bed early. So while you likely won’t remember waking up, you’ll experience symptoms like fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and mood swings. Low oxygen levels at night can also cause you to wake up with headaches, while clenching or grinding your teeth can cause headaches as well as jaw pain.

How do I know if I might have sleep apnea, and is getting a diagnosis really that important?

Sleep apnea symptoms are easy to dismiss as “not a big deal” or completely unconnected at home, so some people don’t even realize there’s a problem they need to look into. Surprisingly, the first step towards a diagnosis is sometimes taken at your dentist’s office! This is because your dentist can spot potential signs or risk factors for this condition, such as wear on your teeth from bruxism, a scalloped or enlarged tongue, a narrow palate, or enlarged tonsils during your regularly scheduled dental appointment.

If you’re experiencing sleep apnea symptoms or if your dentist notices these signs during your dental exam, it’s always a good idea to schedule an appointment with a sleep specialist. Untreated sleep apnea increases your likelihood of suffering from a wide range of serious health conditions like high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Best case scenario, you’re able to rule it out—but if you get a diagnosis, you can get treatment that will help you sleep better, feel better and more rested, and be healthier overall every day. That’s certainly worth it!

How is a diagnosis made?

Getting a diagnosis from a sleep doctor generally involves speaking to them about your symptoms and getting a sleep study. At Ada Smile Place, we can help you with that. We’ll ask you to schedule a sleep wellness consultation to determine if a home sleep study would be beneficial. We utilize a couple of tools to determine if there are any blockages in the airway, and at what percentage of blockage the airway collapses. If there are any concerns from these tests, we will send you home with a sleep study kit. It only takes one night, and then you drop it off the next day! We have a sleep physician read the result and make his recommendations for treatment.

How is each type of sleep apnea treated?

Thankfully, there are several potential sleep apnea treatment options out there for you to choose from nowadays! The most well-known method of treating this condition is a CPAP machine, which treats moderate to severe sleep apnea of all types by delivering pressurized air to you through a mask while you sleep to keep your airways open. In some cases of obstructive or mixed sleep apnea, an ear, nose, and throat doctor can also rule out or identify and remove blockages such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids that may be contributing to or causing an obstruction in your airway at night.

But did you know that if you have mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea, your dentist might also be able to relieve your symptoms without a CPAP? It’s true! The position of your jaw impacts your airway, so dentists create a custom-made oral appliance that holds your jaw in an ideal position overnight. This position is relaxed but keeps your airway as open as possible, allowing you to sleep comfortably and breathe more easily while you do. It’s a comfortable and extremely portable alternative to a CPAP machine for some people.

These oral appliances may also offer some relief for mixed sleep apnea symptoms but will likely need to be combined with other treatments since they can’t address issues regarding the signals your brain needs to send to your muscles. For the same reason, it’s not a good option if you have central sleep apnea. This type isn’t without treatment options, though! Its potential treatments include treating conditions connected to your central sleep apnea, using supplemental oxygen, adjusting medications you’re currently taking, or adding medications to stimulate breathing.

Thankfully, a sleep apnea diagnosis is the beginning of better days for you! There are plenty of treatment options out there, and finding the right one for you will help you to sleep more soundly and feel healthier. If you’d like to learn more about how the best dentist near Ada, Oklahoma can help relieve your sleep apnea symptoms, feel free to call and schedule a consultation at Ada Smile Place at any time!