Do you snore? Do you hold your breath while you sleep? Do you wake up gasping for air? Do you feel sleepy during the day? These questions may determine whether you might suffer from sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is the stoppage of breathing while you sleep. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the stoppage of breathing due to blockage in the airway, essentially choking on yourself in your sleep. It is estimated that some 87 million Americans—18 percent of men and eight percent of women aged 30 to 70—suffer from some form of OSA. Surprisingly, only 10 percent have been diagnosed.
In addition to snoring, more serious symptoms include but are not limited to high blood pressure, obesity or weight gain, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), memory problems including Alzheimer’s, heart problems, sexual dysfunction, diabetes, frequent nighttime urination, teeth grinding, and migraines. Just because you have one or more of these symptoms does not mean you have sleep apnea and vice versa; there is, however, a strong correlation between one’s sleep and overall health. For example, with sleep apnea the risk of stroke or heart attack is 33.3 times greater. Risk of hypertension increases by 45 percent.
So how do professionals diagnose sleep apnea, and why should we care?
Sleep apnea can only be diagnosed by a board-certified sleep physician, but this can be accomplished by a fairly simple at-home sleep test. The sleep test shows how you sleep and how many times you stop breathing. This is called your AHI, or Apnea Hypopnea Index. Every time this occurs, it interrupts your sleep. You likely will not remember these events but your body and especially your mind will feel it in the morning. Your body needs proper sleep to let your brain rest and rejuvenate. If you are waking up 10, 20, or 30 times per hour in severe cases it will affect your health and mental acuity. According to some recent data, OSA sufferers may have a 46 percent greater chance of dying early. It can take 12 to 15 years off your life, which is more than smoking.
The good news? Sleep apnea, once diagnosed, can be treated. There are two recommended treatment methods for OSA. The first is CPAP: Continuous Positive Airway Pressure which is used as a first line of defense by most physicians. This is a machine with a mask that forces air through your mouth and nose to bypass any obstruction and get air into the lungs. Due to the nature of wearing a mask with a tube while sleeping, many people cannot tolerate or choose not to wear the CPAP. For them, a second option called Oral Appliance Therapy, sometimes referred to as a MAD or Mandibular Advancement Device, may be a more appealing treatment option. The MAD is an oral appliance custom-fitted to your mouth that positions the lower jaw to keep your airway open. This option is often more tolerable and has been shown to greatly improve obstructed breathing and snoring. You can have an oral appliance fabricated by any dentist trained in dental sleep medicine.
The bottom line is that OSA can be treated. So if you snore or exhibit any of the various signs and symptoms discussed, please get screened. We as sleep professionals can help. Proper treatment could save your life, or at the very least cure your snoring!
Dr. John Murray has practiced with Murray Dental Group for 15 years, and treated patients with sleep apnea since 2016.
I Think I Might Have Sleep Apnea. What's Next?
- Discuss your symptoms with your doctor or dentist. The specialists at Murray Dental Group offer initial screening and the at-home sleep test, which is evaluated by a board-certified sleep physician.
- If you’re diagnosed, research your treatment options to determine if Oral Appliance Therapy may be right for you.