Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is a chronic medical condition that causes sufferers to stop breathing for short periods during the night. It is relatively common, affecting an estimated 18 to 30 million adults in the United States, but it can be dangerous. Sleep apnea raises the risks for other health conditions and can even cause sudden death.
Snoring is one of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea, yet snoring can also be caused by a myriad of factors including allergies, colds, and even the shape of your sinuses. Here is what you should know about snoring and sleep apnea.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Besides snoring, sleep apnea can cause a variety of symptoms. Each person is different, so you may or may not experience these common signs:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Nighttime teeth grinding
- Noticeable pauses in breathing during sleep
If your symptoms are mild, they may be nearly unnoticeable or easily chalked up to simply getting a poor night’s sleep. People with worse symptoms often report a feeling of drowning when waking during the night or a sense that they are physically unable to stay awake during the day.
A sleep study is the only way to get a definite diagnosis of sleep apnea. These are traditionally held in medical sleep labs. You will arrive between 8 and 9 p.m. to check in and change into your sleeping attire.
You will then be hooked up to a variety of wires, including electrodes, to track your movements and sleep stages, an EKG to monitor your heart rate, an oxygen sensor on your finger and a nasal monitor to track your breathing. You may also have elastic bands around your stomach and chest to monitor your breathing effort and a microphone at your throat to check for snoring.
You will sleep in a hospital bed until 6 or 7 a.m., and then be awakened, disconnected, and allowed to shower and change. Your physician will schedule a follow-up appointment to discuss your results.
Home Sleep Tests
Though sleep labs try to make patients comfortable, they are not the most pleasant places to spend the night. Increasingly, physicians are ordering home sleep tests when possible instead. You will receive a small handheld monitoring system that is about the same size as a telephone handset. Following the provided instructions, you will connect the monitoring devices before you go to sleep and leave them on overnight. You will not have the electrodes that are used in sleep labs.
You may need to use the equipment for up to three nights. When you are finished, you will return the device to the coordinating office, get your results, and share them with your dentist.
Sleep Apnea Treatments
The traditional treatment for sleep apnea is a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. However, many people struggle to breathe normally with the machine. Others find the bulky equipment and elaborate setup difficult to manage, especially when traveling.
There are other variations on the CPAP machine, but patients and dentists are increasingly turning to the sleep apnea mouthguard instead. These small, easy to carry devices look similar to sports mouthguards, but they are carefully designed to pull the lower jaw forward and prevent overnight airway collapse. Though no single treatment is right for everyone, it is worth asking your dentist if this is the right solution for you.