Do you get a solid eight hours in bed every night, but still wake up feeling absolutely fatigued and unable to think clearly? You could have obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder that affects some 30 million Americans annually
Dr. Margaret Culotta-Norton and Dr. Peter Grinc, with dental offices located in Washington, DC, have successfully treated many sleep apnea patients. If you have sleep apnea, they can recommend the appropriate treatment for your condition.
Sleep apnea basics
There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is caused by a blocked airway; central sleep apnea, which happens when the brain forgets to remind your body to breathe; and mixed sleep apnea, which is a combination of the two. Since central sleep apnea is extremely rare, the phrase “sleep apnea” is commonly used to mean OSA.
The mechanics of OSA
Obstructive sleep apnea episodes happen when the muscles at the back of your throat relax so much that they collapse in on themselves. This restricts your airflow, and after a few seconds, your brain sends a panic signal that makes the muscles contract again, letting air in and causing you to snort, snore, or make a choking noise.
In most cases, you’ll never even wake up or know you are having an episode. You could have a few episodes a night, or dozens every hour. Since your body keeps getting a startle response, you’re unable to fall into deep sleep, meaning you sleep without getting the true rest your body needs.
Common symptoms of sleep apnea like snoring or gasping may be obvious to a bed partner. If you sleep alone, consider setting up a recording device to see if you display any obvious symptoms at night. Other symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Headaches in the mornings
- Chronic sore throat
- Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
- Irritability or mood swings
- Decreased interest in sexual intimacy
If you suspect you or someone you love has OSA, pursuing a diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve your life. It can also reduce the danger OSA might be putting you in.
The dangers of sleep apnea
As you can imagine, not getting enough sleep night after night after night can be detrimental to your health.
Heightened risk for developing or worsening medical conditions
Undiagnosed or untreated OSA can increase your risk of serious medical conditions, including:
- Weight gain
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma, sleep apnea can make your symptoms worse. The same is true if you suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or chronic heartburn that is worse at night.
Increased risk of injury or death due to accident
You may also be in danger due to your sleep apnea interrupting your rest and causing brain fog. When you are tired, you’re at higher risk for lack of focus and being easily distracted. This can lead to a slip, fall, or other accident.
You could make a mistake administering yourself medication and suffer an overdose, or leave an open flame burning when you are finished cooking a meal. You might even space out behind the wheel of your car, causing a serious injury or fatality.
Finding a solution for sleep apnea
Your dentist might not be the first place you’d think of looking for help if you have OSA. Most doctors will recommend a continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machine to keep your airway open all night, but these can be difficult to sleep in and cause chronic dry mouth and throat.
A much less invasive option is an oral appliance customized for you by Dr. Culotta-Norton or Dr. Grinc. These devices work by positioning your jaw in such a way that your airway naturally remains open while you sleep. For many people, such a device can remove the need for a CPAP machine.
To learn more about your options and discuss your treatment, schedule a consultation by calling our office at 202-833-1111, or request an appointment online.