Sleep-related breathing disorders (SRBDs) are a spectrum of diseases due to a narrowing airway at some point from the nose to the lung. Allergies, deviated nasal septa, inflamed nasal lining, large uvula or tonsils, and fatty tongues can cause the narrowing. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, pneumonia, and Sarcoidosis can induce breathing disorders in the lower respiratory segment. However, some sleep-related breathing disorders are not related to narrowing in the airway but can make it difficult to breathe while asleep due to central nervous system disorders.
The mild form of breathing disorders while you are asleep could lead to hypoxia, and the severe form can cause apnea. Chronic obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is common, and it is due to overly relaxed throat muscles that cause the throat to collapse or become blocked while you are asleep. Patients with OSA stop breathing for 20 to 30 seconds at a time, numerous times throughout the night. Over 80% of the population in North America who has some form of SRBDs are undiagnosed and untreated. They have no idea that they are suffering from this silent disease.
Untreated apnea can increase the risk of several diseases, including coronary artery disease, heart attacks, high blood pressure, diabetes and headache syndromes. Because most of them do not have good rest at night, they feel tired and sleepy during the day. They are prone to accidents as well as reduced productivity.
What are the signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and Sleep-related breathing disorders?
1) Noisy snoring during sleep is a warning sign that you have an obstructed upper airway. Not all snorers have apnea, but the two often go hand-in-hand. As snoring gets louder, the chances of sleep apnea are greater.
2)If you have apnea, your bed partner might notice that pauses punctuate the snores in breathing. Those are apnea episodes, and they can recur hundreds of times a night.
3) If you gasp for air during sleep and awake with a dry mouth.
4) A morning headache soon after you wake up can indicate clenching and grinding your teeth while asleep. Patients with OSA tend to grind and clench their teeth to activate their tongue and throat muscles to keep their airways open.
5) When you are struggling to breathe at night, your sleep becomes disrupted. Therefore, patients with OSA often toss and turn around when asleep. If you find yourself kicking, thrashing, jerking or lightly waking up, apnea might be a possible cause.
6) If you get a whole night of sleep but still feel tired all day, you might have OSA. Tired patients can nod off quickly when reading or in front of the TV, are more irritable, feel weak and fall asleep easily in a car, even while driving.
Men are more likely to have apnea than women, though the risk for women increases threefold after menopause. Being overweight or obese increases apnea risk markedly. If you recognize any of these warning signs and symptoms, especially if you are a man or post-menopausal woman who is also overweight with a BMI over 30, you should talk to your doctor about OSA. Your doctor will probably recommend a sleep study. Sleep studies are done overnight in a specialized lab or, sometimes, in your home. The sleep study is a way to characterize your breathing patterns while asleep.
Dr. Wong at Affinity Dental Care is trained in dental sleep medicine through American Dental Sleep Medicine. He can provide screening for OSA and other SRBDs.
Contact us with any questions or to book your next appointment.