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What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition where you momentarily stop breathing while you’re asleep. These episodes last for several seconds many times each hour, every night that you’re asleep. This most commonly occurs when patients sleep on their back. The lower jaw falls backwards and the throat muscles relax and become floppy, closing your airway. For most people, their breathing muscles are strong enough to overcome the blockage and can breathe continually all night long. For some patients, though, normal breathing isn’t enough to get air down into their lungs, so they stop breathing. After several seconds, the brain thinks you are suffocating and sends messages to your body to cough and open your airway. When you stop breathing, the oxygen levels in your blood drop, starving your body’s cells. This lowered oxygen level is called hypopnea. When there are more hypopnic events happening every night, the body’s cells become damaged beyond repair, leading to long term chronic problems.
What is the treatment for sleep apnea?
The most common treatment for sleep apnea is called CPAP- Continuous Positive Air Pressure. You wear a mask connected to a machine that blows air down your nostrils all night, so your throat doesn’t have a chance to close at all. Your airway is splinted open all night by a constant stream of high pressure air. It’s like being connected to a vacuum cleaner in reverse all night.
CPAP machines are very successful, if they are worn. Most patients don’t like the idea of wearing a mask to bed every night. It’s also another piece of equipment they have to have with them wherever they plan on sleeping. If they are going out of town, patients need to remember to bring their CPAP machine, and be close to an electrical outlet to plug it in.
Another solution to treat snoring and sleep apnea is an oral appliance. Oral appliances position your lower jaw forward so it doesn’t fall back and block your airway when you’re sleeping. Your tongue is connected to your lower jaw, so it too can’t flop back and block your throat while you sleep. Many patients have found oral appliances are a much better treatment for them, compared to a traditional CPAP machine.
How do I know if I have sleep apnea?
The best way to determine if you have any sleeping disorders, like sleep apnea, is with a lab sleep test. But, some common symptoms you might be aware of that sleep apnea patients have are loud snoring (the MOST COMMON symptom of sleep apnea is snoring), daytime tiredness, irritability, weight gain, falling asleep during the day, depression, memory problems, frequent night urination, and night sweats.
Since sleep apnea occurs when you’re, well, asleep, it may be difficult for you to know if this dangerous condition is something you need to worry about. Common symptoms of sleep apnea and sleep related disorders are loud snoring, daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, fatigue, weight gain, depression, and irritability. The only way to truly determine if you have sleep apnea is with a lab sleep test.
But, even though the thought of having to sleep at a laboratory might keep you awake for hours, there are simpler, at-home ways to find out if you might have a sleeping problem. Instead of having a full lab sleep test performed, your physician may order a home sleep test for you. You connect all the pads and breathing tubes at home, and an electronic recorder measures your breathing, heart rate, and oxygen flow throughout the night. Your physician then reads the report generated from the home sleep test device to determine if treatment may be indicated.
You can also take a preliminary questionnaire to find out if you should even be evaluated for sleep apnea in the first place. You can take a five minute (actually, it’s more like two minutes, but if I told you it was a two minute survey, you might think I was fibbing a bit) survey to find out first if you should be more thoroughly evaluated for any sleep disorders. The most common and accepted survey is called the Epworth Sleepiness Survey.
The Epworth Survey is a short list of questions asking you how likely it is for you to fall asleep or doze off during certain times throughout your day. It’s a great way to find out easily if you should talk to your physician about sleeping issues and possibly order a lab or at-home sleep test.
Fill out the form below and our office will contact you as soon as we are open to schedule a complimentary, no-charge sleep appliance consultation, and find out if an oral appliance is right for you to alleviate your snoring or sleeping problems.