Sleep apnea is a condition that causes a person to stop breathing frequently during the night without realizing it. The apneas (sleep apnea episodes) typically range in duration from 10 to 30 seconds, but can last longer. Try holding your breath repeatedly while you’re reading this page. Eventually you’ll get light-headed and out of breath. That’s because your body is telling you that you need more air. You need to breathe in order to get rid of the carbon dioxide that naturally accumulates in the body, and of course to get more oxygen. People with sleep apnea may stop breathing hundreds of times per night, slowly suffocating themselves to death.
There are three types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea – caused by physical blockage of the airway
- Central Sleep Apnea – the brain simply “forgets” to make the person breathe
- Complex Sleep Apnea – a mix between obstructive and central sleep apnea
Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
At its root, obstructive sleep apnea is caused by poor neuromuscular physiology as a result of childhood developmental problems such as:
- Large tonsils and/or adenoids
- Enlarged tongues
- Poor Posture and spinal column issues
- Poor Sleep Posture
All of these problems cause the child to begin breathing almost exclusively through their mouths. Mouth breathing in children can have an adverse effect on the growth and development of the jaw, cranium, and facial bones and the position of the head and neck on the spinal column.
So how does that relate to sleep apnea? If the jaw is trained to stay open in a position that is unbalanced from a neuromuscular standpoint, meaning that the jaw is torqued or sitting back too far, then the airway is not held open. The soft tissues in the throat (fat, the soft palate, the uvula, the tonsils and adenoids) more easily block the airway, and the patient then has increased breathing. A side effect of airway obstruction is chronic snoring.
The Effects of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can dramatically reduce a person’s life expectancy. How? It all comes down to oxygen. It drops your blood oxygen level, slowly depriving the patient of oxygen until the patient is not getting enough oxygen to keep him/her alive. Death rarely occurs suddenly in one night, but instead works slowly over time. The patient’s organs are deprived of oxygen every night, and the patient eventually begins to experience organ failure symptoms such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Sleep apnea can lead to stroke, kidney failure, and congestive heart failure. Put simply, it is deadly.
Sleep Apnea Diagnosis
Preliminary testing is fairly simple. It begins with a couple of brief quizzes: The Epworth Sleepiness Scale and The Berlin Sleep Evaluation Form. These tests help your dentist decide if a sleep screening is warranted.
“Sleep screening” takes place either in a sleep study center or at home with instrumentation such as the ApneaLink by Resmed. The tests are able to uncover a potential sleep spnea patient. Once it is established that a patient does indeed suffer from sleep apnea, the diagnosing physician, the dentist and the patient can decide on the sleep apnea treatment that is best for him or her.
If you live in Corpus Christi and you think that you or a loved one might suffer from sleep apnea, contact Dr. Lowrance right away to set up a consultation and to conduct a sleep screening. Do not ignore the problem. Take action. Read on for information about treatment. Call (361) 851-8274 to learn more or to schedule an appointment.