Obstructive sleep apnea is very common and potentially life-threatening medical disorder that prevents airflow during sleep. More than 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, and many are not receiving treatment.
Sleep Apnea occurs when tissue in the back of the throat collapses and blocks the airway, reducing the amount of oxygen delivered to all of your organs including your heart and brain. People with sleep apnea may snore loudly and stop breathing for short periods of time. When the blood-oxygen level drops low enough, the body momentarily wakes up. It can happen so fast that you may not be aware you woke up. This can happen hundreds of times a night, and you may wake up in the morning feeling unrefreshed.
In addition to snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep apnea can cause memory loss, morning headaches, irritability, depression, decreased sex drive and impaired concentration. Sleep apnea patients have a much higher risk of stroke and heart problems, such as heart attack, congestive heart failure and hypertension. Sleep apnea patients are also more likely to be involved in an accident at the workplace or while driving.
Signs of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea patients are often older, obese and have thick necks, but men and women of any age or body type can have sleep apnea. The sleep disorder progressively worsens with age and weight gain. Listed below are some common signs of sleep apnea:
- Unrefreshed sleep
- Unintentionally falling asleep during the day
- General daytime sleepiness
- Waking from sleep with a choking sound or gasping for breath
- Loud snoring
If you have these symptoms, you might have sleep apnea. The Epworth Sleepiness Scale can help us further determine if you likely have sleep apnea.
Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
An overnight sleep study must be performed to properly diagnose obstructive sleep apnea. This test, also known as a polysomnogram, will chart your brain waves, heart beat and breathing during sleep. It also records arm and leg movement. The polysomnogram can be done in the comfort of the patients home or in a sleep center if the patient desires.
During a consultation appointment we will also discuss other conditions that may mimic or worsen the symptoms of OSA, such as:
- Another sleep disorder
- A medical condition
- Medication use
- A mental health disorder
- Substance abuse
We will take your symptoms into consideration during diagnosis. Prior to the appointment, ask your partner if you snore loudly, stop breathing or gasp for breath during the night. We will also want to know if you gained weight or stopped exercising before your symptoms began.
Oral Appliance Therapy
Oral appliances are a front-line treatment for snoring and mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea. This small plastic device fits in the mouth during sleep like a sports mouth guard or orthodontic retainer. Oral appliances help prevent the collapse of the tongue and soft tissues in the back of the throat, keeping the airway open during sleep and promoting adquate air intake. Oral appliances may be used alone or in combination with other treatments for sleep-related breathing disorders, such as weight management, etc.
Oral appliance therapy involves the selection, fitting and use of an especially designed oral appliance that maintains an open, unobstructed airway in the throat when worn during sleep. Custom-made oral appliances are proven to be more effective than over-the-counter devices, which are not recommended as a screening tool nor as a therapeutic option.
Dr. Jennifer Davis has training in oral appliance therapy, is familiar with the various designs of appliances and can help help determine which is best suited for your specific needs. We will work as a team with your physician to provide diagnosis, treatment and ongoing care.
The initial evaluation phase of oral appliance therapy can take several weeks or months to complete. This includes examination, evaluation to determine the most appropriate oral appliance, fitting, maximizing adaptation of the appliance and the function.
On-going care, including short and long term follow up is an essential step in the treatment of snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea with oral appliance therapy. Follow-up care serves to assess the treatment of you sleep disorder, the condition of your appliance, your physical response to your appliance and to ensure that it is comfortable and effective.