Important Things to Know About Sleep Apnea

Important Things to Know About Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a significant public health problem. Afflicting an estimated 25 million adults in the United States, it has been called a threat to public health that continues to get worse.

Obstructive sleep apnea is linked to chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and heart disease, obesity, stroke, glaucoma, depression, and diabetes. Recent research found that it presents a unique danger to pregnant women, by elevating the risk of high blood pressure and premature birth.

Sleep apnea affects the quality of sleep and contributes to sleep deprivation. Sleep deprived people are far more likely to be involved in motor vehicle crashes, industrial accidents, or workplace errors that have serious consequences.


What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by pauses in breathing and shallow breathing while you sleep. There can be 30 pauses or more in an hour and they can last anywhere from a few seconds to more than a minute before normal breathing resumes, which is often accompanied by a loud snorting or choking sound. A chronic condition, the disruptions or pauses in breathing cause the sleeper to move out of deep sleep into light sleep.

When we are wide awake, muscles in the throat are stiff allowing air into the airway and lungs. These muscles relax when we sleep which causes the throat to narrow. Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the muscles in the throat relax more than they're supposed to, blocking air from flowing properly.

There are a number of possible causes. Sometimes the malfunction is attributed to aging. You can be born with a narrow airway that makes you prone to the problem. Being overweight can also contribute to obstructive sleep apnea.


The Dangers of Sleep Apnea

When breathing is blocked, blood oxygen levels begin to fall. If levels fall far enough, your body reacts by waking you up, which causes the muscles in your windpipe to suddenly stiffen and breathing to resume. If this happens often enough, stress hormones are released, which in turn can increase your heart rate, blood pressure, heart attack and stroke risk, and cause abnormal heart rhythms.


The Connection to Snoring

If you snore it could be a sign that you have obstructive sleep apnea, but not necessarily. About 90 million people in the United States snore and about half of those have OSA, according to the National Sleep Foundation. You’re less likely to have OSA if snoring does not wake you up. You are more likely if you sleep with your mouth open, wake up gasping for in the middle of the night, and often feel sleepy during the middle of the day. A person with sleep apnea will tend to snore louder and more often.


Treating Your Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is often treated with a positive airway pressure machine, combined with a breathing mask, which works by supplying a flow of pressurized air into the patient’s throat. The air keeps the airway open and prevents it from collapsing, delivered through CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). While CPAP is considered to be an effective option, many people have difficulty wearing a mask while they sleep and so may end up not using their device.


Custom Mouthguards Provide an Effective CPAP Alternative

An oral appliance, often referred to as a custom mouthguard, is also an effective first-line treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.  They are increasingly popular with more than 100 different FDA approved custom mouthguards available.

Oral appliances are worn in the mouth while you sleep, and position the jaw in a way that keeps the airway from being blocked by the tongue and upper airway muscles. They fit in your mouth in a way similar to a sports mouthguard.

Oral appliance therapy is approved by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine as a first-line treatment for patients diagnosed with mild to moderate OSA. It is also recommended for patients with severe OSA who cannot wear or are unable to tolerate CPAP devices.

It takes a dentist trained in dental sleep medicine to properly fit a custom mouthguard. A special plastic that is soft and made for medical purposes makes them comfortable. Many patients prefer custom mouthguards for their ease of use, comfort, lack of noise, portability, and ease of care.


If You Think You Have OSA

Dr. Armen Terteryan can not only diagnose sleep apnea, he can also create custom oral devices to help you breathe easier while you sleep. If you are ready for a good night’s sleep, call or book online to make an appointment with Dr. Terteryan at his practice, Couture Smiles Dental Group, located in Woodland Hills, California.

Because it treats a medical condition and not a dental condition, oral appliance therapy is usually covered by medical insurance.

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