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Sleep Apnea. It’s more than Snoring!

  • February 24, 2017
  • Dr. Lucy Gilbart here,

    A few days ago, a patient came to our Frederick, MD., dental office for a general cleaning. We chatted for a bit about work and our families, before he asked about sleep apnea. He said he had been a lifelong snorer, and his wife was at her wit’s end. She could barely stand to sleep in the same bed as him.

    This patient remarked that “my snoring” was get out of control. He made the classic assumption that sleep apnea and snoring are the same thing. While one of the first signs of sleep apnea is snoring, it’s hardly the only sign. The reality is that sleep apnea goes far beyond snoring. In fact, there is a major difference between simple snoring and sleep apnea.  Simple snoring can be its own problem or a symptom of sleep apnea.

    Today I want to tell you about the major risks associated with sleep apnea. First …

    What is sleep apnea?

    Sleep apnea occurs when a person experiencing pauses in breathing or wakes up gasping for air at night. Essentially, people with sleep apnea struggle to breath and do not get enough oxygen. There are two forms of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when soft tissue, typically the tongue, blocks the airway. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send signals to the brain to breath. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea.

    Is sleep apnea dangerous?

    The short answer here is ABSOLUTELY. Sleep apnea is dangerous for several reasons. The most serious concern is that you can stop breathing in your sleep. In some cases, people have died from complications with sleep apnea. That’s rare, but it has happened. If you remember the football great Reggie White. He died from complications with obstructive sleep apnea at the age of 43!

    The other problem with sleep apnea is that your oxygen levels and blood pressure vary. When your body is not getting enough oxygen, it goes into distress and sends more blood and oxygen to vital organs. This increases your blood pressure. This increase in blood pressure can continue throughout the day.

    In addition to increase blood pressure, sleep apnea can increase your risk of stroke and heart disease. People with sleep apnea also can suffer from obesity, Type 2 diabetes, insomnia, mood swings, depression, morning headaches, and daytime fatigue.

    Daytime fatigue is a major symptom of sleep apnea. You might think you are sleeping a full eight hours, but the constant pauses in breathing caused by sleep apnea can leave you feeling exhausted when you wake up in the morning. That can be a real problem on your work life and dangerous is you drive long distances or work in the transportation field.

    A simple oral appliance can resolve your issues

    Patients who know a little about sleep apnea often have concerns because the only treatment they have heard of is CPAP. A CPAP machine is a device that constantly pushes air into the lungs while you’re sleeping to ensure you are never without oxygen. The problem is that a CPAP machine — which includes a mask, hose and motor —  can be rather cumbersome. People don’t like the feel of the mask on their face while they sleep, and because of that, CPAP compliance is only about 50 percent.

    As an alternative to the CPAP, we offer an oral appliance. The oral appliance fits over the bottom teeth and pushes the lower jaw forward to ensure the airways remain open during sleep. These appliances are custom and comfortable. Our patients often tell us they get used to the treatment within a few days of wearing the oral appliances. Additionally, they see their symptoms fade.

    If you are struggling with snoring or wake up feeling exhausted, it might be a good time to ask us about a sleep screenings. You can contact any of our three offices today.  


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