Many of the patients at our practice tell us that their snoring is affecting their sleep or the sleep of their partner. While snoring may seem like an ordinary complaint or simply an inconvenience, severe snoring can be an indication of a much more serious health concern. Sleep apnea – a condition that causes people to momentarily stop breathing during sleep – can result in sudden gasping for breath during sleep, constant drowsiness, and even depression. If you are suffering from sleep apnea, our Orange County dentist—John Cross, DDS—can develop a customized treatment plan to improve your condition and allow you to sleep soundly and peacefully.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea and snoring are typically characterized by the narrowing of oral and nasal passages during sleep. The tissues and muscles in these areas can become very relaxed, obstructing a positive flow of air while you are sleeping. These obstructions can cause:
- Severe snoring
- Breathing pauses lasting several seconds, even up to a minute or more
- Inability to sleep through the night
- Unexplained daytime fatigue
- Choking in your sleep
- Frequently waking up gasping for air
People suffering from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can experience these interruptions hundreds of times per night and wake in the morning with no memory of uneasy sleep. Central sleep apnea (CSA), though less common, causes similar effects. This form of sleep apnea occurs when the brain does not properly signal the body to regulate the breath during sleep. It is also possible to suffer from both forms of sleep apnea simultaneously (a condition called complex or “mixed” sleep apnea).
Many people who suffer from the effects of sleep apnea are unaware they have the condition, and oftentimes a partner or a family member is the first to identify this problem. Additional signs of sleep apnea may include:
- Grinding the teeth or clenching the jaw while sleeping
- Frequent headaches
- High stress levels
- Mood swings
- Memory loss
- Constant fatigue
If you believe that you or a loved one may be suffering from sleep apnea, please schedule a consultation with Dr. Cross today. When left untreated, the long-term consequences of sleep apnea can be severe. Oftentimes, treatment methods can be simple and effective.
Dangers of Sleep Apnea
There is a common misbelief that sleep apnea only affects men and women who are overweight or even obese. Although unhealthy weight levels may contribute to the impact of sleep apnea, this dangerous condition can affect anyone. Some factors that may increase a person’s risk for sleep apnea include enlarged soft tissues of the throat or nasal passages, a relatively small jaw, or an unusually large tongue.
When left untreated, sleep apnea can ultimately lead to an array of conditions and serious health risks, such as:
- Gastric reflux disease
- Sexual dysfunction
In severe cases, sleep apnea may even result in sudden cardiac death. The first step toward successful treatment and minimizing the risks of sleep apnea is a proper diagnosis of the condition.
Sleep Apnea Diagnosis
Dr. Cross believes sleep apnea is a serious health concern and recommends evaluation by a specialist if you suspect you may be at risk. A sleep study is commonly used to diagnose sleep apnea, and can inform Dr. Cross of the best way to approach your treatment. Though a traditional sleep study is performed overnight in a lab environment, patients may now be able to test for sleep apnea in the comfort of their own homes. A patented home sleep test device called an apnea risk evaluation system (ARES) allows physicians to collect the data necessary for a proper diagnosis with greater patient convenience and comfort.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
There are several methods of treatment available for sleep apnea. Continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) masks can help you breathe more easily as you sleep, and are considered the most common sleep apnea treatment. However, due to the inconvenience of this method, Dr. Cross offers less intrusive methods of treatment first.
A customized oral appliance can also be used as a smaller and less cumbersome alternative; these “nightguards” are custom-fitted and designed for the most comfortable fit possible. These devices fit inside the mouth like a retainer or mouthguard. By keeping the jaw slightly open during the night, the soft tissues of the mouth and nasal passages may remain unobstructed, ultimately allowing for a peaceful night of sleep.
In severe cases of sleep apnea, surgery may be recommended as a last resort, though most patients will not require an invasive procedure to successfully alleviate the symptoms and side effects of this condition. Dr. Cross will talk with you about the many available treatment options and help you determine the best one for your needs. The benefits of sleep apnea treatment include uninterrupted sleep, feeling well-rested, and significantly reducing your risk for associated health concerns.
If you believe you or your partner may be suffering from sleep apnea, or if you would like to schedule a consultation with Dr. Cross, please contact our office today.