What is Sleep Apnea? How Can It Be Treated?
Sleep apnea currently affects about 22 million Americans every night, making it the 2nd most common sleep problem in the country (right behind insomnia). More and more people are suffering from sleep apnea every year due to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and being overweight.
When a person has sleep apnea, they temporarily stop breathing for short periods of time throughout the night. When the air is fully cut off, the body panics, wakes up, and clears the airway with a loud gasp or snort. This can happen hundreds of times a night without a person realizing it, and it prevents them from achieving the deep, restful sleep their bond and mind needs to recharge from the day.
There are actually two different types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common, and it occurs when the soft tissues in a person’s mouth and throat relax and block the airway during sleep. It is by far the main kind of sleep apnea.
The other kind, central sleep apnea (CSA) is much less common and happen when the brain simply stops sending the body the signals to breathe during sleep. Rarely, a person may actually have both kinds of apneas at once.
Some common symptoms and warning signs for sleep apnea include:
- Chronic, loud snoring
- Gasping for air, wheezing, or waking feeling breathless
- Frequent morning headaches
- Sore throat and dry mouth upon waking
- Severe daytime fatigue regardless of hours slept
- Difficulty concentrating, memory loss, mood swings, and other changes in behavior
- Sexual dysfunction
How Sleep Apnea Can Be Diagnosed
As you can imagine, it can be tough to know if you actually have sleep apnea or not because the most indicative symptoms—temporary stops in breathing—occur while you are asleep. Most of the time, it’s a bed partner that first observes the signs of sleep apnea.
At Sleep Better Appliances, we know that the first step to getting treatment for this condition is a proper diagnosis, which we can help you get. First, we recommend that you take out STOP-BANG assessment. This short, 8 yes or no question quiz will give Dr. Striebel and our team important information as to your risk of having a sleeping disorder. After completing it and having a consultation with us, we can recommend you to a sleep doctor who can person a sleep study.
A sleep study is a non-invasive medical test that monitors your vital signs while you sleep, and it’s how a sleep doctor can determine whether or not you have sleep apnea. You can have one performed either at home or in a lab based on your preference, and afterward, your doctor will recommend the appropriate treatment. If you are a viable candidate for oral appliance therapy, you can then return to Better Sleep Appliances where Dr. Striebel will fit you for your own customized device.
12 Things You Should Know about Sleep Apnea & Sleep Disorders
- An adult should only need 6-8 hours of sleep to feel adequately rested and not experience fatigue during the day.
- Patients with sleep apnea tend to have issues with their weight due to being too tired to consistently exercise.
- Sleep deprivation can affect the brain in similar ways as alcoholism, drug addiction, and Alzheimer’s.
- Sleep apnea is often self-misdiagnosed as insomnia because it can cause people to wake up frequently during the night or sleep very lightly.
- People who snore but do not have sleep apnea are much more likely to develop it in the future. Fortunately, this can be treated/prevented using oral appliance therapy as well.
- Driving while sleep deprived is very similar to driving while drunk. In a closed course test, sleepy drivers were 15 times more likely to get an accident than ones who were sober and adequately rested.
- The majority of people with sleep apnea (80%) are either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Additionally, the majority of those who are diagnosed with sleep apnea do not seek treatment.
- People with untreated sleep apnea tend to have a much shorter life expectancy, only averaging the age of 55.
- Sleep apnea is one of the biggest causes of sexual and erectile dysfunctions.
- People who wake up to urinate often during the night might actually be waking up due to sleep apnea.
- Many people who suffer from bruxism, or unconscious nighttime teeth grinding, also suffer from sleep apnea.
- A larger than average tongue or neck size is also a big risk factor for sleep apnea.
Snoring is More than Annoying
Most of the time, snore is simply seen as an unconscious, yet annoying habit. However, snoring may indicate serious issues with a person’s sleep. The “iconic” sound is created by air vibrating the tissues in the mouth and throat, and this happens because those tissue are partially blocking the airway. Often, snoring is actually a precursor to sleep apnea.
Overall, whether a person has sleep apnea or not, snoring indicates that they are not breathing completely during the night, preventing them from getting the deepest sleep possible. Thankfully, oral appliance therapy can also be used to help patients who snore and are at risk of developing sleep apnea in the future.
Your CPAP Alternative
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is by far the most popular prescribed treatment for sleep apnea. It works by having a patient wear a facial mask that is connected to an air pump that literally forces oxygen into the throat in order to keep it open throughout the night. As you can imagine, many patients find this extremely uncomfortable.
The facial mask can feel very constrictive, leading some patients to even have feelings of claustrophobia. Also, the machine itself creates quite a bit of noise, which can be disturbing not only to the wearer, but their bed partner as well. Also, the machine is quite bulky, which can restrict a patient’s movement while they are trying to fall asleep and make it practically impossible to travel with.
However, now a patient can benefit from an alternative treatment that does away with all these problems—oral appliance therapy. With this approach, all a patient has to do is wear a small, custom-designed mouthpiece to bed every night to sleep peacefully. It works by slightly shifting the jaw forward, which prevents the tissues in the mouth and throat from obstructing the airway. It’s ideally suited for patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea, but it can also be used in conjunction with a CPAP for combined therapy. The appliances are compact, portable, and extremely simply to use, making them one of the easiest sleep apnea treatments available today.
Is Sleep Apnea Treatment Covered by Insurance?
Yes, but this is where things can get tricky.
In most cases, sleep apnea treatment using oral appliance therapy actually is not covered by most dental insurance plans even though the treatment is administered by a dentist. It’s actually covered by medical insurance, and this can make it extremely intimidating and confusing for a patient to use their benefits. Adding even more confusion, now more and more dental insurance plans are starting to cover oral appliance therapy as well.
This is where our team of experts can help. When you choose to get oral appliance therapy with us, they’ll help you find the easiest way to maximize your insurance benefits, no matter where they come from. We’ll file the claim, handle the paperwork, and help you walk through the entire process so your care will be much more affordable.
Screening with Pulsox
Monitoring your heartrate and blood pressure while you sleep is essential to determining if you have sleep apnea as well as how effective your treatment really is. Using a small device called a Pulsox, we can easily do this while you sleep at home. It is a small device that fits over your wrist and finger, and it will monitor your pulse while you sleep, noting any extended periods of elevation that could indicate sleep apnea. It can also show signs of other health concerns brought on by sleep issues.
We know this is a lot of information to process, but here is your one major takeaway: if you’ve been having issues sleeping or can’t seem to get enough rest, contact Better Sleep Appliances for an evaluation. We can help you get to the root of your problem and then provide the treatment you need. If you have any questions or are ready to schedule a consultation, please contact us today.