What is Sleep Apnea and why should you care?
Is Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS) Normal?
EDS is a collection of symptoms associated with sleep apnea. Patients report finding it hard to stay awake after lunch, doze while watching TV, and nodding off when they read. As natural as it might seem to nod off after lunch, daytime sleepiness is a sign that you’re missing healthy sleep. If you experience regular daytime sleepiness, you may be suffering from sleep apnea.
Is Snoring a Problem?
Snoring is a sign that something is obstructing or partially blocking your airway when you sleep. Daytime sleepiness and snoring are both signs that you are not getting the quality of sleep that you need and deserve. They’re also signs that you may be one of over 18 million Americans who suffers from some form of sleep apnea. If you are a sleep apnea sufferer, we are here to help you.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
“Apnea” is the term doctors use for a temporary stop in breathing. Having sleep apnea means that your body stops breathing temporarily when you sleep. (Visit the website of the main sleep specialist doctors we have partnered with, Dr. James Andry and Dr. Nagwa Lamaie.)
Obstructive Sleep Apnea—The Not-So-Silent Killer
The most common form of sleep apnea is Obstructive Sleep Apnea or OSA. When you have OSA, your breathing stops because your tongue, tonsils or throat muscles are “obstructing” (i.e. blocking) the airway. This is the type of sleep apnea associated with snoring and choking sounds because the blocked airway causes the noises and simultaneously disrupts the sleep of the sleeper and anyone else nearby. Having a blocked airway results in poor quality sleep and a myriad of serious health problems ranging from memory loss and weight gain to high blood pressure and heart disease. (Read more on Sleep Apnea.)
In children, OSA due to enlarged tonsils frequently causes ADHD. These poor kids are hyperactive, unable to focus properly and living off of adrenaline because they don’t sleep well!
Risk Factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnea:
Central Sleep Apnea:
Sleep apnea can also occur because the brain isn’t giving the muscles correct breathing instructions during sleep. We refer to this condition as Central Sleep Apnea or CSA. This form is much less common than OSA, and you should speak with a Sleep Physician!
Upper Airway Resistance Disorder
The “Healthy Woman’s” Sleep Apnea
Finally, the strangest form of sleep apnea is Upper Airway Resistance Disorder or UARS. This type of sleep apnea primarily affects women who are thin, physically fit and under the age of forty. Because the risk factors are so different for UARS that many other sleep disorders, it can go undiagnosed for years.
In UARS The Brain Tries to Save the Day… by Mistake
Because people with UARS have narrowed airways, when they sleep their brains mistake the lower than optimum airflow for insufficient breathing. When this happens, the brain sounds the alarm because it thinks that “death is imminent!” Adrenaline surges, the heart thumps wildly and the brain wakes the sleeper up in a cold sweat gasping and terrified. The heroic brain thinks it saved the day, but, in reality, it only disrupted sleep.
UARS Can Feel Like An Express Train to Crazy
Continually disrupted sleep leads to chronic fatigue, a weakened immune system and memory loss. Highly functional people start to feel like they’re losing their touch and their sanity. There isn’t enough coffee in the world to compensate for UARS.
How Do I Know If I Have OSA?
The Epworth Sleepiness Scale was developed to help identify people with a sleeping disorder. You don’t need to see a doctor to complete this first step in finding out if you have sleep apnea. Fill out the survey here and get your results right now!
Your survey results help you discover if you may have sleep apnea or another sleeping disorder. To find out more, you will need to complete a sleep study. Our office has teamed up with a sleep physician to offer at home sleep tests that are easier and less expensive that spending the night at a sleep lab.
How to Treat OSA:
- “Oral Sleep Appliance”: Sleep appliances are customized retainers that stop snoring and open the airway by advancing the jaw several millimeters during sleep. Holding the jaw in a forward position also holds the tongue forward and prevents the obstruction in obstructive sleep apnea.
- CPAP: A CPAP or Continual Positive Airway Pressure machine is the gold standard for treating sleep apnea, and it works by providing a constant flow of air. The machines are effective but not always well tolerated due to their bulk, noise and fit.
- Surgery: In children with OSA, removing the offending tonsils and adenoids can cure the sleep disorder and any associated hyperactivity virtually overnight. For kids with narrowed airways, maxillary expansion with an orthodontic appliance may also be necessary.
- Losing Weight: For overweight patients, losing weight can lead to less weight and pressure on the airway potentially relieving the obstruction and curing the sleep apnea.
- Positional Therapy: Sleeping on your side instead of your back can open the airway and prevent or limit obstruction.
Sleep Apnea Nearly Drove Us Crazy
Why Sleep Apnea Matters to Me
Every so often someone asks me why I care about sleep apnea so much. It’s an easy answer. Sleep apnea nearly stole my wife.
Was My Wife Going Crazy?
We both wondered if she was going crazy. My wife was an energetic lady with a ready laugh and great sense of humor who loved getting things done and was constantly trying to do more. She loved entertaining and loved getting outside. My wife loved performing music with our daughter. In fact, she simply loved life…until she changed.
She Was A Different Person
Over a period of several years, I watched her gradually slow down. New challenges were suddenly overwhelming. She talked constantly about fatigue. More and more frequently, she’d tell me how she’d narrowly escaped car accidents and she was afraid that her reaction time was slowing. She cried…a LOT. My wife had become a different person and our whole family was feeling it.
While She Tried to Cope, I Frantically Searched for Solutions
While she tried to cope with her new reality, I started searching for answers and that’s when I heard about UARS. I came home from a sleep conference with hope and excitement for possible treatment. UARS explained so many of her symptoms: the daytime sleepiness, the waking up with her heart pounding several times a night, the cold sweats, the fatigue, the memory loss, the moodiness. Discovering UARS was the beginning of healing.
Fixing UARS Saved Her Life and Restored Our Marriage
It wasn’t an easy fix because UARS causes lots of complications. In addition, there wasn’t tons of information available back then. Together with her sleep physician, we tried a number of different treatments designed to fix her sleep, including several different sleep appliances. Some treatments worked better than others, and it took a while to get it just right. Thankfully, we did. With her special sleep appliance, my wife can now get a full night’s sleep and has gone back to being herself. Walking through those years with my wife taught me how devastating sleep apnea can be, and it showed me what is possible when dentistry and medicine work together. That’s why I care about sleep apnea: treating sleep apnea saves families, saves marriages and saves lives. Don’t just “cope” with sleep apnea. You Can Get Help Today!
John Bec, DMD, FAGD, FICOI
TOP SAN ANTONIO COSMETIC DENTIST