Originally Published Dec. 14, 2017
You may be one of the over 40 million Americans with sleep-disordered breathing, yet you may be completely unaware of it. Lack of awareness means you might fail to seek treatment for this potentially life-threatening disorder.
If you have sleep apnea, you’re four times more likely to have a stroke, and six times more likely to have a car accident, due to reduced reaction time and sleepiness. Sleep apnea is more than just loud snoring. It’s a serious threat to your health. Here are five other things you may not know about obstructive sleep apnea.
Not all snorers have sleep apnea
Snoring results from air moving between a restricted passage that forms due to the collapse of soft tissue in your nose and mouth. Typically, your tongue and upper throat fall back and come into contact with your soft palate and uvula. When breathing forces air through this tissue, snoring sounds result from the vibration, much the same way as a horn player’s lips vibrate when playing their instrument.
While snoring is a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, it’s not a conclusive indicator. The important consideration is how the obstruction affects your breathing cycle, not how much noise you make. This is something that can only be determined conclusively during a targeted sleep study.
You may have sleep apnea though you don’t snore
Snoring may be all but certain if you have obstructive sleep apnea, the most common sleep-disordered breathing issue. However, obstructive sleep apnea isn’t the only form of the condition. Central sleep apnea traces back to an issue with the central nervous system.
The brain fails to signal the muscles controlling breathing, until the warning systems that detect stopped respiration kick in with higher priority messages, which wake you enough to regain conscious control. If you’re familiar with breathlessly waking up and you have no history of snoring, you may have central sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea isn’t a condition reserved only for the middle-aged
Fewer tonsillectomies are performed on children with signs of inflammation or frequent infections. In children who don’t have a tonsillectomy, it’s found that the inflammation of tonsil tissue sometimes contributes to obstructive sleep apnea at even young ages.
Obesity is a contributing factor to sleep apnea, regardless of age, and genetics also play a part. Extra tissue or excessively soft tissue can aggravate the effects of gravity when you’re laying down, creating the conditions that cause obstructive sleep apnea.
CPAP equipment is not the only way to treat obstructive sleep apnea
While breathing apparatus that provides positive air pressure in your mouth and throat can eliminate sleep apnea, some people can’t sleep with this apparatus in place. First, it’s important to note that CPAP devices come in several configurations, one of which may work better for you, but it’s also important to know that there are alternatives to these devices.
For serious sleep apnea, surgery to remove excess tissue is an option, and there are also minimally invasive measures to free up space using radiofrequency energy to tighten and reduce tissue non-surgically. There are other treatments that adjust your jaw position during sleep.
Your dentist is an important member of your sleep apnea treatment team
Your jaw or your tongue may be part of the reason you’re having problems with obstructive sleep apnea, and your best treatment for these issues may come from Lansdowne & Herndon Smile Design.
When your jaw contributes to sleep apnea, it’s typically due to a backward shift of the lower jaw, due to gravity and relaxed muscles. Try this test: lie down and relax naturally, and feel your breathing, including how much air you’re taking in and how much resistance it meets. Now push your lower jaw forward slightly and observe your breathing. You’ll probably feel the difference as more air flows unobstructed with each breath.
I can fit you with a custom dental appliance similar to an athletic mouth guard that holds your jaw forward as you sleep. Molded over your teeth, this appliance is very unobtrusive and comfortable, particularly when compared to cumbersome CPAP equipment.
Similarly, if your tongue is falling back into your mouth as you sleep, it may be the obstructive culprit. Stabilizing and restraining appliances hold your tongue forward and keep it from collapsing into your airway.
Appliances are an effective and affordable treatment alternative for many sleep apnea patients. Ask me how these may help you get a better night’s sleep.