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Sleep apnea is a disorder that halts people’s ability to breathe for short periods during sleep. Typically, these periods—called apneas—last between 10 and 30 seconds and occur a few times a night. In more severe cases, people experience apneas hundreds of times every night. This highly disrupts sleep patterns, affecting the person’s daily life. For example, irregular sleep patterns may cause the person with sleep apnea to become less alert during the day leading to accidents. In fact, those with sleep apnea are seven times more likely to be in car accidents.
How Does Sleep Apnea Occur?
Sleep Apnea occurs when the airway in your throat or nose blocks either partially or completely. Your airway can be blocked by a large tongue or large tonsils. Excessive tissue can also block your airway passage, a common problem among overweight people. Recent studies show that sleep apnea affects four percent of middle-aged women and nine percent of middle-aged men.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Symptoms of sleep apnea can include:
1) Extreme fatigue during the day
2) Loud snoring
4) Dry mouth
5) Weight gain
6) High blood pressure
7) Penile dysfunction
8) Memory impairment
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are three types of sleep apnea:
1) Obstructive sleep apnea: This is caused when an airway blockage is a result of a biological/anatomical deformity such as too much tissue in the back of the tongue or throat. During sleep, the soft tissue in the back of the throat closes.
2) Central sleep apnea: This occurs when the muscles that help in your breathing fail to move. This inability happens when your brain signal is unable to trigger breathing actions.
3) Mixed sleep apnea: This type of sleep apnea is a combination of central and obstructive sleep apnea.
According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep apnea affects more than twelve million Americans. While sleep apnea can affect just about anyone at any age, most sleep apnea sufferers are male, over the age of 40, and overweight.
Adults who are at risk for developing sleep apnea are typically obese. Adults with sleep apnea will fall asleep for small periods during the day, even during simple conversations in social settings.
Children may also develop sleep apnea. Young children with obstructive sleep apnea behave in a “hyper” manner. While most adults with sleep apnea are overweight, young children with the condition are thin and experience poor growth. That is, their growth rate is reduced comparing to other children. Children with sleep apnea usually experience it due to obstructive tonsils and adenoids which are easily treatable.
Because the medical community continues to learn about sleep, sleep apnea can be difficult to diagnose. Therefore, the medical community encourages input from various medical specialists in diverse areas of both medicine and dentistry.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Consider the following list of medical and dental specialists that may be involved in the diagnosis of sleep apnea.
1) An ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT). The ENT doctor can suggest a treatment that clear blockages caused by anatomical irregularities such as too much tissue. One such procedure is called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) which removes tissue from the back of your mouth and throat.
2) A cardiologist. A cardiologist will focus on how sleep apnea affects your heart.
3) Specific dentists that concentrate on the tongue and its functionality can prevent it from blocking your airway during sleep. This can include a dental laser to remove the excess tissue causing the tongue to constrict your airway. Dentists also encourage you to keep your tongue or jaw in a position that avoids constricting your airflow. Repositioning of the upper and lower jaw may take place.
4) A pulmonologist. A pulmonologist studies your breathing muscle ability. These doctors can recommend oxygen as blood-oxygen levels plummet during sleep.
5) A neurologist. A neurologist assesses your brain and its functions and can then prescribe medication such as acetazolamide. Acetazolamide enhances your brain’s capacity to activate breathing muscles.
6) A sleep specialist. A sleep specialist can perform various tests to determine the quality of your sleep as well as the irregularities you may experience. Sleep specialists may use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. This machine encourages a regular flow of oxygen through a mask that you will wear over your nose when you sleep.
Treatment Costs for Sleep Apnea
The cost for sleep apnea treatment ranges as you must consider the possibility of receiving more than one kind of method to eliminate the blockage of airflow. The cost also depends on what kind of technology is used, the dentist, the location of the dentist, how many doctors or dentists are involved in the procedure, and the dental insurance plan you have.
Consult your insurance plan representatives to inquire how much your sleep apnea treatment would cost. If you treat your sleep apnea sooner rather than later, the cost will most likely be lower as you could experience more serious medical and dental problems if you wait any longer.
A Self-Help Guide for those with Sleep Apnea
1) Exercise regularly to control your weight
2) Avoid alcohol and tobacco
3) Avoid driving or operating machinery when experiencing fatigue
If headaches are affecting your sleep find out more about migraines.