A good night’s sleep is essential for good health for a number of reasons. When you sleep well at night you feel and function better. Sleep is your body’s way of restoring itself overnight. The value of a good night’s rest cannot be overstated. However, that process can be disrupted by a condition known as sleep apnea. Although the problem needs to be diagnosed by your primary care physician, Dr Luderitz can assist you in addressing sleep apnea in Billings, Montana, allowing you to rest easy, and avoid the health issues associated with this problem.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder. It causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start during sleep.
There are several types of sleep apnea, but the most common is obstructive sleep apnea. This type of apnea occurs when your throat muscles intermittently relax and block your airway during sleep. A noticeable sign of obstructive sleep apnea is snoring. Snoring causes the tissues in you throat to vibrate. This can result in swelling and redness in the tissues around the airway. A sign of this would be waking up with a sore or dry throat in the morning. Sleep apnea will cause your body to be deprived of oxygen which will wake you up so that you can breathe again. This all works together to prevent you from getting the necessary sleep your body needs.
Who is At Risk?
Anyone can develop obstructive sleep apnea, however certain factors put you at increased risk, including:
- Excess weight. Most, but not all people with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight. Fat deposits around the upper airway obstruct breathing. Medical conditions that are associated with obesity, such as hypothyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome, also can cause obstructive sleep apnea, however not everyone with obstructive sleep apnea is overweight and vice versa. People of healthy weights can develop the disorder as well.
- Narrowed airways. You may inherit naturally narrow airways, or your tonsils or adenoids may become enlarged, which can block your airway.
- High blood pressure (hypertension). Obstructive sleep apnea is relatively common in people with hypertension.
- Chronic nasal congestion. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs twice as often in those who have consistent nasal congestion at night, regardless of the cause. This may also be due to narrowed airways.
- Smoking. People who smoke are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea.
- Diabetes. Obstructive sleep apnea may be more common in people with diabetes.
- Sex. In general, men are twice as likely as premenopausal women to have obstructive sleep apnea. The frequency of obstructive sleep apnea increases in women after menopause.
- A family history of sleep apnea. If you have family members with obstructive sleep apnea, you may be at increased risk.
- Asthma. Research has found an association between asthma and the risk of obstructive sleep apnea.
What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
You should talk with your doctor if you notice any of the following problems:
- Extreme drowsiness during the day
- Personality changes and irritability
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Waking up with a very dry or sore throat
- Frequent morning headaches
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- Head and neck stiffness
- Sensitive teeth due to clenching and grinding
- Breathing through the mouth
- Loud breathing
- Dry mouth
- Dry throat
- Weight gain
- Decreased libido
What Are the Risks Associated with Sleep Apnea?
Untreated Sleep Apnea can lead to a host of problems, including:
- High blood pressure, or hypertension
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Heartburn (Gastric Reflux “GERD”)
- Increased chance of Motor Vehicle Accidents
- Increased chance of Stroke or Heart Attack
- Memory loss
- Poor Work Performance
- Weight Gain
- In children, ADHD and bedwetting
Clenching and grinding of the teeth, or “bruxism”, may also be connected to Sleep Apnea. We believe that many people will clench or grind their teeth while sleeping in order to try to protect their airway so they can breathe! This clenching and grinding may cause severe damage to the teeth, dental fillings and crowns, or result in TMJ problems and headaches. This clenching and grinding occurs in adults and children and is NOT normal..
What Can Be Done?
For milder cases of obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes:
- Lose weight if you’re overweight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Drink alcohol moderately, if at all, and don’t drink several hours before bedtime.
- Quit smoking.
- Use a nasal decongestant or allergy medications.
- Don’t sleep on your back.
- Avoid taking sedative medications such as anti-anxiety drugs or sleeping pills.
If these measures don’t improve your sleep, or if your apnea is moderate to severe, then your doctor may recommend other treatments. Certain devices can help open up a blocked airway. In other cases, surgery may be necessary.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Positive airway pressure. In this treatment, a machine delivers air pressure through a piece that fits into your nose, or is placed over your nose and mouth while you sleep. Positive airway pressure reduces the number of respiratory events that occur as you sleep, reduces daytime sleepiness, and improves your quality of life. The most common type is called continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. With this treatment, the pressure of the air breathed is continuous, constant, and somewhat greater than that of the surrounding air.
Mouthpiece (oral device). Though positive airway pressure is often an effective treatment, oral appliances are a great alternative for some people with mild or moderate obstructive sleep apnea. These devices will reduce your sleepiness, and improve your quality of life. These devices are designed to keep your throat open. Most devices keep your airway open by bringing your lower jaw forward, which can relieve snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. If you and your doctor decide to explore this option, you’ll need to see a dentist experienced in dental sleep medicine appliances for the fitting and follow-up therapy. A number of devices are available. Close follow-up is needed to ensure successful treatment.
Dr. Luderitz can discuss in depth the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea, and there are a few simple tests and a short exam that can help determine if a referral to a sleep or primary care physician is needed. On the other hand, if you have already been diagnosed with sleep apnea and have tried CPAP and either can’t or won’t wear it, Dr. Luderitz can discuss the different type of appliances that you may be able to wear to help open your airway and allow the air to flow easily and for you to sleep comfortably.
Oral appliance therapy has become a widely used and accepted method of treating sleep disordered breathing. The gold standard therapy for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Although CPAP is usually very effective in treating OSA, there are many patients who are not able to tolerate its use. If you have tried to use CPAP, but have given up on using the therapy, an oral appliance may be for you. Many times, depending on the severity of the sleep apnea, an oral appliance can be almost as effective as a CPAP in reducing apnea and improving daytime sleepness.
If you have noticed any of the symptoms of sleep apnea in yourself, or in your spouse or partner, please call Rubicon Care Network today at 406-206-3333 to schedule an appointment with Dr. James R. Luderitz for an evaluation and consultation.