Common Symptoms & Health Risks

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious health condition in which a patient repeatedly stops breathing for brief periods while they are asleep. The most common cause for this condition is obstruction of the airway opening by soft tissues at the back of the throat. Every time a patient with sleep apnea stops breathing, the brain will rouse them briefly in order to restore a normal breathing pattern, which is highly disruptive to the patient’s sleep. These apneic episodes also deprive the body of an adequate oxygen supply.

Sleep apnea is associated with a number of health risks, so it’s important to be evaluated and get treatment if you suspect that you have this condition. Call our office to schedule a consultation if you are experiencing any symptoms of sleep apnea.

Am I at risk for sleep apnea?

Certain risk factors may make a patient more susceptible to developing sleep apnea. They include:

  • Obesity
  • Large neck circumference
  • Narrow airway
  • Male gender (although the risk for women increases after menopause)
  • Family history
  • Chronic sinus problems or congestion
  • Smoking
  • Use of alcohol or sedatives before sleep

Regardless of whether you are in a high-risk population, you should still monitor for symptoms of sleep apnea, which include:

  • Pauses in breathing noticed by a sleeping partner
  • Loud snoring
  • Frequent headaches or sore throats upon waking
  • Daytime fatigue/low energy levels
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Difficulty paying attention

Patients who are experiencing any of these symptoms should complete a sleep study to determine if they do indeed have obstructive sleep apnea so that they can get treatment for the condition.

Consequences of Untreated Sleep Apnea

The importance of getting treatment for sleep apnea cannot be overstated. Your health can suffer greatly from the effects of sleep apnea, likely due to the cascade of effects of an inadequate oxygen supply. Sleep apnea is associated with an increased likelihood of a range of health issues, including obesity, high blood pressure, metabolic disorders and stroke. Patients with untreated sleep apnea may even face an increased risk of sudden unexplained death.

If you have sleep apnea, it’s important to do whatever you can to minimize these risks.

Your Sleep Apnea Treatment Options

Fortunately, sleep apnea can be treated easily and effectively. The solution can be as simple as wearing a custom-fitted appliance while you sleep. The appliance, which feels similar to an athletic mouthguard, positions the tongue or jaw in a way that keeps the soft tissues clear of the airway opening.

Visit our office for an evaluation to determine if oral appliance therapy might be a good fit for you.

Causes And Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea

The apneic episodes happen when the airway opening is blocked while the patient is asleep. The culprit of the obstruction is the soft tissues at the back of the throat, which collapse when the patient is in a reclined position. A spouse or partner may notice that the patient snores loudly, which is a result of air passing through those soft tissues and creating noise. The partner may also detect the pauses in breathing. Patients who have sleep apnea may also frequently have sore throats, headaches or dry mouth in the morning. Many patients notice daytime drowsiness, mood changes and difficulty focusing or paying attention, too.

What are the risk factors for sleep apnea?

Certain traits or lifestyle factors can increase a person’s risk for having sleep apnea. These include obesity, male gender (although the risk for women increases after they have completed menopause), large neck circumference, having an atypically small lower jaw, large tonsils and hypothyroidism. You may also be more susceptible to sleep apnea if you drink alcohol before bedtime. Sedative or tranquilizer use can also increase a person’s risk of having sleep apnea, as can smoking.

Health Effects Associated With Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea won’t just leave you feeling groggy and dragging through your day. It is associated with significant risks for your health, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, asthma, and metabolic syndrome, among others. Sleep apnea may also contribute to a weakened immune system. Reducing your risk of these problems is another compelling reason to pursue sleep apnea treatment.