Do I have sleep apnea?

How do you know if you have sleep apnea?Waking up with a dry mouth, sore throat, or to a loved one frustrated by your snoring, indicates you are probably sleeping with an open mouth. Sleeping with your mouth open can be caused by a multitude of reasons. Certain respiratory conditions such as a cold, flu, or allergies can dictate that a person sleeps with an open mouth. If your problem is not related to congestion, another issue which certainly always contributes to open-mouth sleeping is sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a common and potentially serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts as you sleep. Essentially, it affects the way you breathe in your sleep. These pauses of breath can last from a few up to twenty seconds at a time, multiple times during the duration of your sleep. There are a few different kinds of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea. It occurs when the soft tissue in the back of your throat relaxes during sleep and blocks the airway, often causing you to snore loudly. Central sleep apnea is a much less common type of sleep apnea that involves the central nervous system, occurring when the brain fails to signal the muscles that control breathing. People with central sleep apnea seldom snore. Lastly, sleep apnea and snoringthere’s complex sleep apnea, a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. What occurs during an episode of sleep apnea is your airflow stops, so the oxygen level in your blood drops. This causes your brain to respond by disturbing your sleep to restart your breathing, which usually causes gasps or choking sounds. Individuals with obstructive sleep apnea most often have no recollection of these awakenings. On the flip side, individuals with central sleep apnea are conscious during these awakenings.

Having this condition may be difficult to detect. With the most common form of obstructive sleep apnea, the afflicted individual generally has no knowledge of the breathing disruptions used to diagnose this disorder. There are several symptoms however the sleep apneic usually exhibits. These symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Loud snoring
  • Choking or gasping for air during sleep
  • Frequent night awakenings
  • Long pauses in breath
  • Daytime sleepiness (this is caused by the sleep deprivation, and can result in falling asleep at inappropriate times)
  • Headaches
  • Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat (as a result of open-mouthed sleeping)

With knowledge of the signs and symptoms, there are several options to treat sleep apnea. To get an absolute diagnosis, you have to partake in a battery of tests called a polysomnography, or sleep study. From there it is determined what level of sleep apnea you have (mild, moderate, or severe), and your treatment options can be explored. Your treatment will depend on the diagnosis and severity of the problem. Behavioral modification therapy is one way to reduce risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea. This includes diet, exercise, dietary habits and sleep position. A little more advanced method would be having a sleep apnea appliance made by your dentist. An oral appliance for snoring and sleep apnea are retainer-like appliances that fit over both the upper and the lower teeth. The appliances work by advancing the position of the lower jaw forward, thereby increasing the airway space in the back of the mouth. Advancing further is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Device (CPAP), a respiratory therapy device that blows compressed air through the nostrils at a prescribed pressure to keep the airway open. In most extreme cases, surgical treatment can be rendered to change the shape of back of the soft palate to increase the airway opening.

Anyone can suffer from sleep apnea. Certain risk factors increase your chances such as being overweight, having a thicker neck circumference, age/sex (males over 60 are more prone), enlarged tonsils (most common reason in children) being a smoker and family history. Whatever your risk factors, if you or a loved one think you may suffer from sleep apnea it is imperative to seek medical advice. Very serious health risks may occur if sleep apnea is left untreated. For example, you may be at risk for high blood pressure and at an increased risk for heart disease. Depression has also been linked to those that suffer from sleeping problems. Don’t put yourself at further risk or misery. People with this sleep disorder generally find that their quality of life can improve with the proper treatment.

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