The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that approximately 22 million adults in the United States live with obstructive sleep apnea. While it is a fairly common condition, as many as 80% of cases go undiagnosed and therefore, untreated. It is easy to overlook this serious health issue, but fortunately, a dentist can use an oral appliance to help treat it.
Symptoms of sleep apnea
To better understand the need for treatment, it is important to know the symptoms of sleep apnea. Even the signs themselves are cause for alarm:
- Frequent loud snoring
- Reduced breathing ability or absent breathing during events
- Gasping for air
- Decreased attention span, concentration, motor skills and verbal and visuospatial memory
- Decreased libido or sexual dysfunction
- Headaches or dry mouth when waking
- Recurrent wakefulness during the night to urinate
These symptoms are the result of a blocked upper airway during sleep. The blockage reduces airflow or completely obstructs it, which means the brain does not receive enough oxygen.
The importance of sleep apnea treatment
Sleep apnea can drastically reduce a person’s overall quality of life. Below are a few reasons a person who lives with symptoms should get a diagnosis and treatment.
1. Reduced quality of sleep
When an apnea event occurs, relaxed tissues in the upper respiratory system physically block oxygen from reaching the brain. This forces the brain to wake up long enough to signal the body to open the airway. Individuals who live with OSA wake themselves from slumber several times an hour, which reduces overall sleep quality. This results in daytime fatigue, reduced concentration and other adverse symptoms.
2. Long-term health complications
Sleep apnea does not just affect a person’s cognitive function. When left untreated, it can have long-term, serious health effects. Studies show that untreated OSA increases risks for high blood pressure, heart disease, heart failure, stroke, heart arrhythmias, diabetes, cancer and premature death.
3. Decreased performance at school or work
Poor quality of sleep almost always equates to reduced performance at school or on the job. A person who lives with untreated OSA may have a tougher time processing information, difficulty recalling important facts and trouble finding the motivation to get work done. These individuals are also more prone to making errors, which could have a negative impact on employment or grades.
4. Morning headaches
When an apnea event occurs, the oxygen levels in the blood go down while the carbon dioxide levels in the blood go up. Higher concentrations of carbon dioxide force the blood vessels to dilate. When the blood vessels in the brain and head expand, a person may experience vascular headaches. Though these headaches typically go away within an hour of waking up, they can be uncomfortable and frustrating to deal with on a daily basis.
Sleep apnea affects all aspects of a person’s life and poses long-term health complications. A dentist can help treat this serious problem with oral appliance therapy. If you or a loved one exhibit any OSA symptoms, talk to a dental professional about diagnosis and treatment right away.
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