Do you find yourself waking up out of breath? Have your loved ones told you that you wake up suddenly due to an inability to breathe? If so, you may have obstructed sleep apnea.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common and potentially serious condition in which the patient’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts while they are asleep. A patient may have as many as over 30 breathing pauses during a single hour, and the pauses can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.
As the patient struggles to breathe, they may partly wake up, and their attempts to breathe will be accompanied by loud choking noises, snorting or snoring. There are two types of sleep apnea. Central apnea is caused by the brain’s failure to send needed signals to the diaphragm and other respiratory muscles.
Obstructed sleep apnea is by far the more common type, and it is caused by a physical blockage of the patient’s airway. In many cases, the patient’s tongue falls back on their soft palate, and that causes the soft palate and uvula to collapse against the throat and shut off the airway.
How is obstructive sleep apnea treated?
The most common method for treating sleep apnea is Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT). The patient wears an appliance that looks like a retainer or sports mouth guard in bed. There are different types of appliances, and they all work by keeping the airway from getting blocked. Oral appliances are particularly useful for patients with mild sleep apnea. They need to be custom-made by a dentist or orthodontist to be effective.
The mandibular advancement device (MAD) is the most commonly used oral appliance for treating obstructed sleep apnea or snoring. It increases the size of the patient’s airway by pushing their jaw and tongue forward. It also helps prevent tissue from blocking the airway. The dentist will fit the MAD to the patient’s mouth. During subsequent check-ups, they will examine the MAD to ensure it still fits properly. Both adults and children can use the MAD.
Some lifestyle changes may also help a patient with sleep apnea, especially if their symptoms are still mild. For example, being overweight or obese increases the chances of developing sleep apnea. By contrast, losing excess weight can make the symptoms less severe. Smoking and drinking alcohol also worsen the symptoms; the patient will be advised to stop smoking altogether and to not drink before bedtime. Similarly, they should avoid medications that cause sleepiness, for they can cause the airway to become too relaxed and fall in on itself. Sleeping on one’s side also helps the airway stay open. The dentist may recommend special pillows to keep the patient from sleeping on their back.
If you are suffering from obstructed sleep apnea, it may be time to see us at the office of Dr. Michael Sohl. Contact us today at our implant and cosmetic dentistry to schedule your initial consultation.