What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person's breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times a night.

There are two types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): The more common of the two forms of apnea, it is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.
  • Central sleep apnea: Unlike OSA, the airway is not blocked, but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe (due to instability in the respiratory control center).

Note: Some patients have both types of sleep apnea---obstructive and central.

Am I at Risk for Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea can affect anyone at any age, even children. However, risk factors for sleep apnea include:

  • Snoring.
  • Overweight.
  • Male gender.
  • Over the age of 40.
  • Elevated blood pressure.
  • Larger neck size (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women)
  • Large tonsils or tongue.
  • Having a family history of sleep apnea.

What Are the Effects of Sleep Apnea?

If left untreated, sleep apnea is associated with a growing number of health problems including:

  • Hypertension.
  • Stroke.
  • Heart failure, irregular heart beats, and heart attacks.

Severe sleep apnea is correlated with a reduction in life expectancy.  In addition, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for poor performance in everyday activities, due to daytime fatigue from not sleeping well.

Treatment of Sleep Apnea

Individuals who snore, and who also have larger necks sizes and high blood pressure, should consult their physician about being screened for sleep apnea.  This involves an examination and a sleep study in a specially designed facility.

If sleep apnea is diagnosed by the sleep physician, treatment alternatives tend to first rely on CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) devices---essentially blowing air down the breathing passage (throat) at night to keep it from collapsing.

CPAP can be relatively uncomfortable for some patients, though, so treatment alternatives include oral appliances or surgery.  Surgical alternatives should be discussed with one’s physician.  Oral appliances can be addressed by a sleep dentist (like Dr. Mitchell) working with a sleep physician