Treating snoring and sleep apnea: A two-for-one benefit

Posted by Dr. Edward Magida | Filed under

It's quiz time. How many of these questions can you answer with a yes?

  • Have you been told that you snore?
  • Have you been told that you stop breathing or hold your breath while you sleep?
  • Are you still tired and irritable in the morning even though you thought you slept through the night?
  • Are you overweight?
  • Do you wake up and find yourself sweating excessively?
  • Do you get morning headaches?
  • Have you suddenly awakened gasping for breath during the night?
  • Do you seem to be tired throughout the day?
  • Do you seem to have very restless sleep?

If you answered yes to five or more of these questions, there is a strong probability that you have sleep apnea.

Snoring is partially obstructed breathing. As many as 75 million people in the U.S. suffer from snoring. Sixty percent of males and 40 percent of females over the age of 60 snore. Loudness of snoring can reach upwards of 90 decibels. Levels this high in the workplace would require ear protectors.

Sleep apnea is totally obstructed breathing for 10 seconds or longer – as if you are holding your breath. Within a few seconds you may start to gasp, snort or change your position until the blockage is relieved. When you return to the original sleeping position, the cycle starts all over again. Loud snoring with gasping or choking sounds is a major tip-off that you have sleep apnea.

While all people that have sleep apnea snore, not all snorers have sleep apnea. Symptoms related to sleep apnea are the following: daytime sleepiness, disturbed sleep, daytime irritability, poor memory, morning headaches, anxiety attacks, auto accidents or accidents on the job due to tiredness or exhaustion, and high blood pressure with attendant increased risks of heart attack or stroke.

There are three types of treatment used to help stop snoring or sleep apnea: medical, surgical and dental.

The medical approach involves the following

  • Stop smoking. Smoking irritates tissue in the upper airway. This tissue swells and partially blocks the airway.
  • Abstain from alcohol. Drinking causes reduced upper airway muscle tone. This causes the airway to partially collapse.
  • Lose weight. Extra weight causes increased tissue size of the palate and throat which narrows the airway.
  • Use CPAP machine. This is a type of respirator, which the patient wears with a mask. Air is pumped into you nose under pressure and this keeps the airway open. It is hard to sleep with this contraption and all its associated tubing, so compliance is low.

The surgical approach involves the removal of throat tissues such as the soft palate, tonsils and adjacent throat muscles. This is to enlarge the airway opening.

The dental approach has established itself as the first line of treatment for snoring and mild to moderate sleep apnea.

Here's how it works:

When a person goes to sleep, especially when lying on his/her back, the muscles of the tongue and jaw relax and these structures move backwards against the back wall of the throat. As the airway becomes partially obstructed, snoring starts. If it progresses to complete blockage, sleep apnea occurs.

The tongue is attached to the lower jaw. If the lower jaw were to be moved forward, the tongue would also move forward and the airway would open. If a special dental appliance is made for the snoring/sleep apnea patient, then when this appliance is worn at night, the person's airway would remain open throughout the night and the snoring will stop.

The snoring stops as l ong as the person wears the appliance. It takes a couple of nights to get used to wearing it, but that's a small price to pay for some peace and quiet and improved health.

If you have a snoring or sleep apnea problem, consider a trip to the dentist to find out how to tame this beast.

Remember, even if you are not sure about wanting to start treatment, consider your sleeping partner. If you get treated, both of you sleep better. It's a two-for-one benefit.

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