Check Your Knowledge of Sleep Apnea

March brings more than just a change of seasons; it’s also Sleep Apnea Awareness Month. It’s a time to shed light on this condition that affects millions yet often goes unrecognized.

Sleep apnea, characterized by disrupted breathing during sleep, can have profound health implications if left untreated. Understanding this condition, its symptoms, and potential treatments is crucial, not just for those affected, but also for their loved ones and healthcare providers. After all, a good night’s sleep is essential for everyone, and awareness is the first step towards achieving it.

So, let’s dive into the world of sleep apnea and learn why it’s so important to keep our breath steady as we dream.

1. Anyone can have sleep apnea, regardless of age or health.

While sleep apnea often carries the stereotype of being a condition exclusive to older or overweight adults, the truth is that anyone—regardless of age, sex, or health status—can suffer from it.

Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common form of sleep-disordered breathing, does become more prevalent with age. However, it’s important to note that it can affect both children and adults. The occurrence of this condition in children is often attributed to enlarged tonsils or adenoids, while in adults, factors such as obesity, age, and smoking could increase the risk.

2. This condition is often underdiagnosed and undertreated.

Despite its prevalence, sleep apnea remains vastly underdiagnosed and, thus, undertreated. This can be attributed to several reasons, including a lack of awareness and understanding of this sleep disorder among the general public and even some healthcare practitioners. Common symptoms, such as loud snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, or waking up with a dry mouth or a headache, are often minimized or ignored, mistaken for signs of stress or aging.

Some individuals also exhibit atypical symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating, mood changes, or decreased libido, which could easily be overlooked unless evaluated by an experienced medical sleep specialist.

Finally, sleep apnea is more commonly missed in women than in men. This is partly due to the fact that women often present with less recognized symptoms, such as fatigue, insomnia, and depression, rather than the classic signs, like loud snoring.

3. Sleep apnea does cause a person to stop breathing.

During an episode of this condition, especially obstructive sleep apnea, an individual’s breathing becomes shallow or briefly stops altogether. This pause in breathing can last from a few seconds to a minute and may occur 30 times or more an hour. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound.

When sleep apnea occurs, the concentration of oxygen in the blood can drop significantly, sometimes to dangerously low levels. This reduction in blood oxygen, known as hypoxia, forces the heart to work harder to distribute oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, putting a strain on the cardiovascular system.

The implications of this condition on physical health are profound. Chronic sleep apnea can lead to a host of health problems, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, irregular heartbeats, and heart attacks. It can also worsen pre-existing conditions like diabetes.

As for mental health, this condition can be equally detrimental. The chronic sleep deprivation caused by this condition can lead to depression, irritability, cognitive issues such as difficulty focusing, memory problems, and even severe mental health disorders.

4. Proper treatment improves both overall and mental health.

The good news is that a range of treatment options is available for individuals suffering from sleep apnea, many of which are now minimally invasive for people with mild symptoms.

For instance, oral myofunctional therapy is a treatment method that employs exercises to reinforce the muscles responsible for swallowing and breathing—providing a natural, non-surgical treatment for sleep apnea. Alternatively, oral appliances, custom-made for the patient, can be worn during sleep. These devices adjust the position of the lower jaw and tongue, keeping the airway open and promoting unobstructed breathing.

Getting timely treatment for this condition is not merely about managing symptoms, it’s also about protecting your mental and physical health in the long run. Following a comprehensive diagnosis, it’s crucial to explore these treatment options in consultation with a healthcare professional.

Remember, the goal is not just to sleep better, but to live better, and treating sleep apnea is a significant step in that direction.

Do you suspect you might have sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is not a condition to be ignored. It’s a serious sleep disorder that involves repeated interruptions in breathing that can significantly affect your physical and mental health. It can lead to memory problems, difficulty focusing, cardiovascular complications, and other health issues if left untreated.

If you suspect you might have symptoms of this condition, the first step is to seek a diagnosis from a medical doctor. Once you have a diagnosis, the dental care team at Ada Smile Place can provide non-invasive treatment options. Through oral myofunctional therapy and customized oral appliances, we can offer solutions tailored to your unique needs, helping you not just sleep better, but live better.

Remember, managing this condition is not only about addressing symptoms.  It’s about taking a significant step towards protecting your long-term health and well-being. Schedule a consultation today if you’d like to learn more about sleep apnea from a dentistry perspective.