It's Not Just Snoring: The Dangers of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common problem that’s known for causing loud snoring, but it’s responsible for more serious health problems. When you have sleep apnea, you stop breathing five to more than 30 times every hour while you sleep. The impact on your body is significant.

At MediDental Care, we specialize in treating sleep apnea related to a constricted airway especially in children with oral appliances that effectively and comfortably keep your airways open. As your breathing returns to normal, you can prevent whole-body health problems and, in some cases, you may be able to reverse conditions that have already developed.  

For some adult patients, increasing the width of the upper jaw or correcting a jaw discrepancy where the lower jaw is too far back and constricts the airway provides a significant reduction of sleep apnea issues. There are various orthodontic appliances that address structural issues that impact oxygenation during sleep.  

Here are six significant health problems caused by untreated sleep apnea:

Daytime fatigue and sleep deprivation
Every time you have an apnea episode, oxygen levels in your bloodstream quickly drop. Your brain immediately alerts your body, making you wake up just enough to start breathing again — and just enough to interrupt your sleep cycle.

Restorative sleep is only possible when you go through all the stages of sleep uninterrupted. Sleep apnea can disrupt any stage multiple times during the night. As a result, you wake up feeling like you didn’t get enough sleep, and you go through the day feeling sluggish and fatigued.

In mild cases of sleep deficiency, you’ll notice the fatigue when you sit down to enjoy a quiet activity, such as reading and watching television. But when you have severe apnea that wakes you 30 times or more every hour, you’ll feel tired even when you’re active.

One of the biggest risks of fatigue for adults is falling asleep while driving. In children, fatigue due to sleep apnea is often seen in their inability to concentrate at school, irritable mood, and hyperactive or oppositional behaviors.

Cardiovascular disease
Obstructive sleep apnea is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. In other words, if you’re in perfect health except for sleep apnea, the apnea alone increases your chance of developing cardiovascular disease.

Sleep apnea causes numerous changes in your body that affect your heart and blood vessels. When levels of oxygen drop, your nervous system triggers an acute stress response, automatically releasing hormones that have a body-wide impact.

Untreated sleep apnea may lead to systemic inflammation and damaged blood vessels. When your oxygen levels fall, your body quickly reacts to deliver oxygen to your heart and brain. The only way to boost oxygen is to increase blood flow, putting tremendous pressure on your blood vessels.

The body-wide stress of sleep apnea leads to cardiovascular problems such as:

Increased heart rate
High blood pressure
Heart attack
Heart failure
Arrhythmias (irregular and slow heartbeats)
Patients with severe sleep apnea have double the risk of having a heart attack compared to people who don’t have sleep apnea.  

Type 2 diabetes
Sleep apnea also increases your risk of Type 2 diabetes. Intermittent hypoxia, the ongoing drop in oxygen while you sleep, directly affects glucose metabolism, leading to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. Lack of sleep may also contribute to high levels of insulin.

Memory loss and brain function
Your brain definitely suffers from the constant drop in oxygen and changes in your blood vessels during apnea episodes. As a result, sleep apnea leads to problems such as difficulty concentrating and having a hard time making decisions.

Sleep apnea also affects your memory. Long-term memories are imprinted in your brain during deep sleep. When apnea disrupts this stage of sleep, your brain can’t consolidate memories. As a result, you have a hard time remembering those events.

Mood disorders
There’s no doubt that interrupted sleep makes you moody, emotional, and irritable, but sleep apnea may have a more severe impact. When you have sleep apnea, you have a two-fold greater risk of major mood disorders such as clinical depression. Reviewing your sleep history with your primary care physician or your child’s pediatrician is the first step.  Other specialists, such as allergists or otolaryngologists may also provide a comprehensive overview of the individual issues impacting your sleep.

Diagnostic tests such as allergy testing for swollen adenoids or tonsils may be part of your sleep apnea diagnosis in addition to a sleep study.  After a comprehensive physical evaluation, an orthodontic evaluation may determine if the structure or the relationship of your jaws and teeth are major problems contributing to your sleep apnea.

At MediDental Care in Astoria, New York, we specialize in treating sleep apnea related to constricted airways so that you can maintain optimal wellness. To schedule an appointment, contact us or schedule an appointment online.

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