Sleep apnea is more than an annoyance. This chronic condition not only interferes with your alertness during the day, it may also contribute long-term to serious issues like cardiovascular disease.
Sleep apnea occurs when your airway becomes temporarily blocked during sleep. Of the possible causes, one of the most common is the tongue, which as it relaxes may cover and block the back of the throat. This lowers the body's oxygen level, which in turn alerts the brain to wake you to clear the airway. You usually go immediately back to sleep, unaware you've wakened. This can happen several times a night.
Although older people are at higher risk, anyone can have sleep apnea, even children with enlarged tonsils or adenoids. If you or a loved one regularly experiences fatigue, brain fog, irritability or loud snoring, sleep apnea could be the culprit. You'll need a complete medical examination to properly diagnose it.
If you do indeed have sleep apnea, there are a number of ways to treat it depending on its severity. One prominent way is with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine that produces a higher air pressure in the mouth to force the tongue forward and keep the airway open.
While CPAP is effective, the pump, hose and face mask you must wear may become uncomfortable while you sleep. We may, however, be able to supply you with a less cumbersome device: a custom-made oral appliance you wear while you sleep. Similar to a retainer, this appliance mechanically pulls and holds the lower jaw forward, which in turn moves the tongue away from the airway opening.
This oral appliance won't work with all forms of sleep apnea, so you'll need an examination to see if you're a candidate. With more advanced conditions, you may even need surgery to reshape the airway or remove soft tissue obstructions around the opening.
Whichever treatment is best for your situation, it's well worth reducing your sleep apnea. Not enduring these nightly incidences of airway blockage will help ensure you're getting a good night's sleep — and enjoying a higher quality of health and life.
If you would like more information on treating sleep apnea, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “If You Snore, You Must Read More!”