While snoring is a common problem, affecting up to 50% of the adult population, it can also be a sign of other major health complications. Snoring is the condition that results when breathing is somewhat obstructed during normal sleep and produces loud sounds. This not only affects the quality of sleep of the person snoring, but also the quality of sleep of their loved ones and other family members.
What causes snoring?
Snoring is caused by the relaxing of the muscles and soft tissues in the throat and mouth, making the air passage smaller and causing them to vibrate loudly when air rushes past. When it does get through, it moves over the soft tissues in the mouth and throat causing a vibration that results in the loud, obnoxious snoring sound. Snoring can also result from the combination of several factors:
- Excess body weight
- Alcohol consumption
- Certain sleep aides or sedatives
- Sleeping on your back
- Large neck size
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
What is a Mandibular Advancement Device?
If you snore at night, then a mandibular advancement device (MAD) may be a good solution for you. The MAD is a custom designed dental device that gently helps keep the lower jaw, or mandible, in a forward position, increasing the space between the airway passage and helping you breathe better so you can get restful deep sleep. Some devices also stop the tongue from falling back over your windpipe. Your dentist will fit these special appliances to meet your individual condition.
Is a MAD comfortable?
A mandibular advancement device is designed to be comfortable, so that you can sleep without even noticing it. It does not prevent you from breathing with your mouth open and will even help eliminate snoring for patients with sinus congestion or allergies. You may experience some slight stiffness of the jaw for the first few mornings after wearing the device, but this feeling is only temporary, and will go away after you wake up and remove the device.
To learn more about a mandibular advancement device, contact our practice and schedule an appointment and consultation.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition in which your airways collapse or become blocked and breathing stops periodically during sleep. This can occur as often as 20-30 times per hour lasting for a few seconds to several minutes. Each time your breathing pauses in your sleep, the resulting lack of oxygen alerts your brain, which temporarily awakens you to restart proper breathing. Since the time spent awake is so brief, most people are not aware of it. Many believe they are getting a good night's sleep when, in fact, they are not. The constant disruptive wake-sleep cycle prevents those with sleep apnea from achieving deep REM sleep causing constant drowsy feelings during the day.
What are the signs of sleep apnea?
Often, the person with sleep apnea is unaware of their situation as it occurs while they are sleeping. It is often a loved one who recognizes the condition. The following symptoms can indicate the presence of sleep apnea.
- Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- Loud snoring at night
- Waking up at night short of breath
- Snorting or choking sounds during the night
- Headaches upon waking in the morning
- Falling asleep unintentionally during the day
- Extreme drowsiness throughout the day
- Lack of energy, lethargy
- Lack of concentration
- Frequent night time urination
Are there different types of sleep apnea?
There are three categories of sleep apnea. The most common form is called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), and occurs due to a physical blockage, usually the collapsing of the soft tissue in the back of the throat, particularly when you sleep on your back. Less common is Central Sleep Apnea (CSA), in which breathing stops because the muscles involved do not receive the proper signal from the brain. The third type is called "Mixed" or "Complex" Sleep Apnea which is a combination of Obstructive and Central.
What are risk factors for sleep apnea?
Anyone — regardless of gender or age — can suffer from sleep apnea. However, these are the more common risk factors:
- More common in males than females
- More common in older adults (40+) than younger adults or children
- Drinking alcohol
- Use of sedatives or tranquilizers
- Family history
Central Sleep Apnea strikes most often in people with heart disorders, neuromuscular disorders, strokes, or brain tumors.
Is sleep apnea dangerous?
Sleep apnea is considered a serious medical problem and if left untreated can lead to:
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
- Increased risk or worsening of heart failure
- Increased risk to experience arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats
- Increased risks with sedation anesthesia
- Increased complications with medication or surgery
- Depression and negative quality of life
The ongoing state of fatigue caused by sleep apnea can lead to problems at work or school, as well as danger when driving or operating heavy machinery. If you know or suspect you suffer from sleep apnea, let your family doctor know before taking prescribed medication or having surgery.
How is sleep apnea treated?
Treatments for sleep apnea depend on the severity of each individual case and the type of apnea. Basic treatments begin with patients making behavioral changes:
- Lose weight
- Stop smoking
- Decrease alcoholic beverages
- Sleep on their sides instead of on their backs
If these changes do not improve the sleep apnea, patients need a professional evaluation to consider a custom MAD oral device that can be used to position the mouth in such a way that prevents throat blockage.
CPAP Continuous Positive Airway Pressure is one of the most successful treatments for sleep apnea. A mask is worn over the nose while you sleep. It gently forces air through the nasal passages and throat to keep the airways fully open for normal breathing and healthy, restful sleep. You would be referred to your private doctor to obtain an evaluation for a CPAP machine.
In more severe cases, surgery or medical management may be the best option to treat sleep apnea. This might involve correction of a deviated nasal septum, nasal polyps, chronic allergies, enlarged tonsils and adenoids.
What should I do if I suspect that someone in my family suffers from sleep apnea?
Contact our practice for an evaluation. We will refer you to a sleep apnea specialist if that is best for you. The specialist may recommend a sleep study to diagnose the precise extent of the problem, and can prescribe appropriate treatment.