Is it Sleep Apnea?
It is estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted for more than ten seconds at a time. Yet only 1-2% of people with the disorder are diagnosed.
Most cases of sleep apnea are caused when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open. Central sleep apnea, in which the brain fails to properly control breathing during sleep, is less common. People with a small upper airway, large tongue, tonsils or uvula or being overweight have a greater risk of having sleep apnea. People with a large neck size, who smoke, use alcohol and are over 40 are also at a higher risk.
Is Sleep Apnea a Serious Problem?
While it may seem that sleep apnea is just a nuisance, obstructive sleep apnea can have very serious health consequences. Sleep apnea causes disrupted sleep and low blood oxygen levels that can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure) heart disease, mood and memory problems. It can also lead to congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia, stroke or depression.
For these reasons, it’s very important for someone who suspects that they are suffering from sleep apnea to consult with a medical professional to get a diagnosis.
How Do I Know If I Have Sleep Apnea?
Chronic snoring is one of the primary symptoms of sleep apenea. Your partner may notice that you are also choking, gasping or stop breathing during sleep. But there are many other symptoms of sleep apnea. Take our quiz to discover if you have the most common symptoms of sleep apnea. You’ll get immediate results…no email required and it takes just a few minutes.
What Do I Do if I Have Symptoms?
The first step is to consult with a medical professional. Dr. Larson offers a free screening to current and new patients who suspect they may have sleep apnea. During the screening he will review your symptoms, look at your airway and may give you a home sleep test.
Before any treatment can be determined, a sleep study must be performed to determine how severe the symptoms are.
Dr. Larson is a member of St. Luke’s Allied Health Staff and can refer patients who have demonstrated sleep apnea symptoms to St. Luke’s Department of Sleep Medicine. There they can conduct a sleep study for a final diagnosis.
The treatment of choice for obstructive sleep apnea is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Device (or CPAP). CPAP is a mask that fits over the nose and/or mouth and gently blows into the airway to keep it open during sleep.
What’s the Alternative to a CPAP?
Many people cannot tolerate a CPAP device and complain of claustrophobia, dry nasal passages, skin irritation from the masks, difficulty tolerating the pressurized air and accidentally removing the mask during the night. As a result, they end up sleeping without it, even when they know they are jeopardizing their health.
For those, a dental appliance which repositions the lower jaw and tongue may be an alternative. A dental appliance makes no noise, won’t get tangled during sleep, eliminates dry, itchy noses, and is much simpler for travel.
If you live in the St. Louis area and are concerned about your sleep apnea symptoms, schedule a free screening with Dr. Larson at his office in Chesterfield.