Sleep apnea is a sleep and breathing disorder that can have serious
effects on your health and well-being.
Apnea is a breathing stoppage where air cannot flow in or out of a person's
nose or mouth. The amount of time that a sleep apnea patient stops breathing
can be from 10 seconds to two minutes or more. These breathing "stoppages"
can happen a few times per hour or, in more severe cases, 60-100 times per
hour or to the point where someone spends more time NOT breathing than they
When breathing stops, oxygen levels drop significantly and can affect the
heart, brain and blood pressure. Recent studies prove a relationship between
sleep apnea and heart problems and failure, hypertension and stroke. It may
contribute to obesity and diabetes. Snoring is frequently associated with
sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is not confined to one group or size, but is more
frequent in men and obese individuals.
How does this affect me?
Because someone with sleep apnea wakes up constantly due to the breathing
stoppages, they have inadequate sleep. The apneic patient is usually not
aware how many times they wake up during the night, but it can be as many
times as they stop breathing. It could be 70-100 times per hour and they
don't realize it! This lack of quality and restorative sleep leads to
excessive daytime sleepiness. Concentration and daytime performance can be
The most dangerous of the problems related to lack of sleep are "drowsy
driving" and accidents on the job, which can lead to fatalities or serious
consequences of untreated sleep apnea. The snoring that can accompany sleep
apnea can also mean a disturbed sleep for the bed partner of the individual
and the bed partner can also be sleep deprived. Other problems, such as
depression, irritability and sexual dysfunction, can also be linked to
untreated sleep apnea.
If someone falls asleep at inappropriate times, such as driving a car or
while stopped in traffic, while working or when engaged in conversation,
that person should be evaluated by a physician for sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea can be caused by an obstruction in the upper airway that blocks
the air from getting in our out. When the muscles are relaxed during sleep,
they can sag, causing a blockage.
Also an excessive amount of tissue, such as in obesity, can cause a
narrowing and obstruction.
Can sleep apnea be treated?
Sleep apnea can be treated. Once someone has been diagnosed, the most common
form of treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This is
where a small machine pushes air through the upper airway to keep it open. A
small mask is placed over the nose to allow the air to enter the airway. A
nasal mask is attached to the machine by tubing. This is the most effective,
painless way to treat sleep apnea and can actually correct the disorder
entirely in most people. After sleep apnea patients become accustomed to the
equipment, many find that their quality of life is so much improved they
will take the equipment with them wherever they go! The improvement in
quality of life and daytime performance can be remarkable.
Surgical procedures are also used to treat sleep apnea, if a correctable
obstruction is observed by a physician. Common surgical procedures include
the removal of adenoids and tonsils (most common treatment of Obstructive
Sleep Apnea in children), nasal polyps or any other physical abnormality
that is blocking the upper airway. A uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP)
removes excess tissue from the back of the throat. A Sleep Study should
always be repeated after any surgical intervention to determine if the
Obstructive Sleep Apnea has been corrected.
Dental Appliances are another form of treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
(OSA). Although Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is the gold
standard for the treatment of OSA, some people who have mild to moderate
disease and are unable to adjust to CPAP despite many attempts at different
masks/equipment, may benefit from a dental appliance during sleep to keep
the air passages open. People who snore, but do not have OSA, can also
benefit from these devices. A dental appliance is an acrylic device worn in
the mouth to prevent the soft throat tissues from collapsing and obstructing
the airway. Oral surgeons and/or dentists with special training in dental
appliance therapy can design and fit these devices to meet a person's
individuals needs. Once the person is comfortably using the dental appliance
for a few months, a Sleep Study should be repeated to check the
effectiveness of the device in controlling the OSA and/or snoring.
Additional information about dental devices can be found on the following