When you picture the typical sleep apnea patient, what comes to mind? For many, it's an image of an overweight, middle-aged man snoring through the night. This is a common conception not only with the general population, but also with doctors, according to Dr. Amy Norman, DDS, a dentist in Everett, Washington, who treats many sleep apnea patients in her practice.
"For years, men have been the poster children of sorts for sleep apnea," she said. "There are many reasons for this. Women are affected differently by sleep apnea in many cases and don’t always snore. They are often misdiagnosed since their symptoms don’t always align with a doctor’s idea of what a typical sleep apnea patient looks like."
A new study from Washington University in St. Louis has found a link between disrupted sleep and Alzheimer’s disease. The study, conducted in partnership with Stanford University and Radbound University Medical Centre in the Netherlands and published in the medical journal Brain, shows that continued poor sleep during middle age could increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease as the patient ages.
Obstructive sleep apnea afflicts 18 million Americans, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Patients with the disorder experience brief, but repeated, interruptions of their sleep, which occur as a result of the patient’s airway becoming blocked. While the majority of sufferers are adults, the American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that 4 percent of children suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, and the majority of these young patients goes undiagnosed. That is, at least until they visit a dentist.
Over 25 million adults have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, according to the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. Sleep apnea can be caused a variety of factors such as being overweight or obese, smoking, age or family history. This disorder can cause extreme fatigue in sufferers, and also has serious health implications. Sleep apnea can even cause dental health issues. Historically, treatments for the disease include lifestyle changes like losing weight, surgery or using bulky machines at night. A relatively new and simple dental treatment is eliminating these invasive or clunky treatments - giving patients a good night's sleep and a new lease on life
Obstructive sleep apnea causes pauses in breathing during sleep. These pauses last about 10 to 20 seconds and can happen 30 or more times in an hourlong period. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused when the muscles of the throat become too relaxed during sleep. When these muscles relax, they fall and block the airway. When the airway is blocked, patients stop breathing and wake up, often snoring, gasping or choking to begin breathing again.
Sleep apnea can lead to serious health complications like depression and high blood pressure. Patients with untreated sleep apnea are also five times more likely to die from heart disease than patients who are receiving treatment for the disorder. Research also suggests a link between the disorder and diabetics’ ability to control their blood glucose levels.
One method of treatment for sleep apnea is surgery. Unfortunately for sufferers, no one particular surgical procedure can stop sleep apnea, and surgical options vary between individuals. Surgical options include removing the tonsils, adenoids and other tissue in the mouth or throat. Some patients also have surgeries to move the jaw forward or expand the palate to increase the airway. Surgery is invasive, painful and runs the risk of infection and other complications.
The most common treatment for sleep apnea involves using a continuous positive airway pressure machine. CPAP machines are designed to blow a constant stream of air into the airway to keep it from collapsing when throat muscles relax during sleep. The air is delivered via a mask worn by the patient at night. Many sleep apnea patients complain that the mask is bulky and uncomfortable, according to Dr. Amy Norman, D.D.S., P.S., of Everett, Washington.
Snoring can be a pain to deal with, but it may also be a sign of more serious condition: sleep apnea. Because snoring is often disregarded as a minor inconvenience, people are often unaware that they suffer from the condition. But the numbers are striking. According to the National Sleep Foundation, over 18 million American adults have sleep apnea. But when is snoring really a sign of sleep apnea? It’s a question Dr. Norman hears from many of her patients. We answer a few frequently asked questions to get to the root of it.
What causes snoring?
There are number of causes of snoring, however, snoring is most often a result of loose or excessive tissue at the back of the throat that collapses into the airway while you sleep. This tissue vibrates as you breathe in, causing the noise associated with snoring.
Pay attention to your breathing for a minute. Are you primarily taking in air through the nose or the mouth? If the answer is the mouth, you may want to be tested for sleep apnea.
Millions of Americans suffer from sleep apnea and many are not receiving adequate treatment. The disorder is characterized by interruptions in breathing at night. Frequent, loud snoring is a common symptom, although the two are not mutually exclusive. Some patients report waking up rapidly at night and others say they feel exhausted after a full night’s rest.
Mouth breathing is dangerous because it’s not how our bodies were designed to function. Air intake through the nose delivers the correct amount of oxygen to the body at the rate that it was designed to get there. Nasal hairs act as filters that trap bacteria from getting into the bloodstream.
Over time, the effects of sleep apnea can become severe. The disorder puts a large amount of stress on the body, often resulting in problems such as high blood pressure, heart stroke and accelerated obesity. It also negatively affects many existing conditions.
If you would like information about treatment options for sleep apnea, please contact Amy Norman D.S.S., P.S.