Sleep Apnea Questions

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What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition in which an individual repeatedly stops breathing while he or she sleeps.

What are the different types of sleep apnea?

The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a blockage of the airway. The upper airway may become obstructed by excess tissue in the airway. The obstruction may be located in the nasal passages, or the structure of the jaw and airway may be the cause of sleep apnea.

Central sleep apnea is much less common. With obstructive sleep apnea, air cannot flow into or out of the person's nose or mouth although efforts to breathe continue. With central sleep apnea, the brain fails to send the appropriate signals to the breathing muscles to initiate respirations.

What causes sleep apnea?

young woman thinking about sleep apnea issues

Sleep apnea has a number of causes. Sleep apnea is usually caused by mechanical and structural problems in the airway that interrupt breathing while you sleep. In other cases, sleep apnea may occur because the throat muscles and tongue relax while you sleep and block the airway. In obese individuals, sleep apnea may be caused by the narrowing of the airway, due to the excess amounts of tissue in the throat and neck.

Read more about the causes of sleep apnea.

Am I at risk for sleep apnea?

Virtually anyone can develop sleep apnea. It is estimated that over 15 million Americans have sleep apnea. However, sleep apnea is more often found in men than women. Individuals who snore loudly, are overweight, or have high blood pressure are at the highest risk. Some studies suggest that sleep apnea may also be hereditary.

If I snore, does that mean I have sleep apnea?

Snoring occurs when your throat muscles relax to the point where the airway is narrowed and partially obstructed. As the air passes through the obstruction, the structures in the throat vibrate and produce snoring.

Although snoring is a strong indication of sleep apnea, the two are not necessarily synonymous. If you snore, you may want to contact an experienced sleep apnea dentist.

How is normal breathing restored during sleep?

During an apneic event, your body experiences an increased amount of carbon dioxide and a decrease in oxygen. This alerts the brain to open the airways. This alert is usually accompanied by a snort or gasp. These arousals can prevent you from getting a good night's sleep. Many patients awake 40-60 times an hour due to apnea but are unaware of this upon awakening in the morning.

What are the effects of sleep apnea?

The number one effect of sleep apnea is a lack of quality sleep. This can lead to simple problems such as drowsiness during the day or trouble concentrating to more serious problems such as memory loss, depression, or suicide.

How is sleep apnea treated?

Mild sleep apnea may be treated with minor behavioral adjustments, such as sleeping on your side or losing weight. Oral appliances or CPAP help many sleep apnea sufferers seek relief from the symptoms of snoring and paused breathing. Other treatments include oral appliance therapy and medication. More severe sleep apnea may require surgery by ENT or oral surgeon.

Does obstructive sleep apnea require surgery?

Sleep apnea dentists can correct obstructive sleep apnea without surgery by using an oral appliance. Oral appliance therapy repositions the lower jaw and tongue keeping the airway open and reducing or eliminating apneic events. The oral appliance is molded to the inside of your mouth and worn at night. The oral appliance may be made adjustable to gradually move the jaw forward.

So, if I use a nasal CPAP, do I still need surgery?

Statistics show that CPAP success rates are high, but only for patients who follow through with treatment and carefully follow instructions. Studies have shown only 23-45% of patents are successful with CPAP. Use of CPAP offers a temporary solution, and some patients prefer to treat their apnea permanently with sleep apnea surgery. Patients who do not want to commit to wearing the CPAP long-term should consider oral appliance therapy before resorting to surgery.

How can I minimize or eliminate my heavy snoring?

Many traditional treatments use cumbersome pressurization equipment (CPAP) to open the airway. A simpler, and more effective method is to keep the airway open by utilizing a simple mouthpiece that maintains proper jaw alignment for safe and healthy sleep. This mouthpiece, similar to a sports mouthpiece, allows the patient to breathe through either the nose or mouth. Dr. Shapira has treated hundreds of patients that "hated" CPAP and are happy with the results.

What is the TAP device?

The Thornton Adjustable Positioner (TAP) is a custom-made adjustable oral appliance that is worn while sleeping. The appliance holds the lower jaw forward preventing the tongue and soft tissue of the throat from collapsing into the airway. It is easily adjustable by the patient, as well as the patients' spouse or significant other. The adjustment handle acts as a snoring volume control. As snoring is reduced the airway is opened.

Why should I seek treatment for sleep apnea?

The lack of quality sleep can take a huge toll on one's life. Sleep apnea patients complain of a lack of energy, muddied concentration, decreased productivity, slowed metabolism, and general loss of quality of life. In addition to the obvious disadvantages of lost sleep, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, and even sudden death.

How do I know if I have sleep apnea?

Many patients come to us because their partners or family members observed their apneic events or heavy snoring.

If you are not aware of a nighttime breathing problem, ask yourselves these questions:

  • Do you snore on a regular basis, or wake others in your household up?
  • Do you awaken frequently at night gasping for air?
  • Are you excessively tired during the day?
  • Do you fall asleep at unusual times during your day?
  • Do you have morning headaches or frequent sore throat or dry mouth?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should consider getting a thorough sleep evaluation.

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

You will need to participate in a diagnostic sleep study. It is recommended that the diagnosis be made by a board certified sleep apnea dentist. A series of tests are utilized to reach a diagnosis of obstructive, central, or mixed sleep apnea. A polysomnography test records body functions during sleep. A Multiple Sleep Latency Test measures how long it takes for the patient to fall asleep and is helpful for pinpointing daytime sleepiness. Call or email us to set up a consultation.

For additional information and specific discussion of your symptoms, treatment options, and more, please call Think Better Life at 1-847-533-8313 today. Our sleep apnea dentists serve patients in and around Chicago, all of Illinois, and beyond.