What is Sleep Apnea?

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What is it?

Every year, 7 million Americans are diagnosed with sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disordered breathing condition where your airway closes and your body cannot breathe. “Apnea” is clinically defined as a 10 second period without airflow. There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.   In simple terms, obstructive sleep apnea is when your body cannot breathe normally due to a blocked airway and central sleep apnea is when your brain does not send proper signals for your body to breathe. Current estimates show 20% of people suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. However, most experts believe the number is far greater as sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed.

Signs and Symptoms

Those that suffer from sleep apnea often show symptoms of snoring, witnessed choking or gasping for air, frequent awakenings, headaches, and excessive daytime sleepiness. Untreated sleep apnea over a long period of time can lead to serious health problems such as: high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, dementia, erectile dysfunction, and has even been linked to fibromyalgia. Sleep apnea is also a genetic condition. Most victims of sleep apnea, often have one or both parents who also suffer from sleep apnea.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Any dentist or physician can screen for sleep apnea, however a board-certified sleep physician diagnoses sleep apnea.   The first step in obtaining a diagnosis involves having a sleep study. Sleep studies come in two varieties: home and lab. The sleep study records vital information about your body while you sleep, and the physician interprets the information to determine the severity of the sleep apnea. Treatment ranges from something as simple as an appliance you wear in your mouth to several different surgery options. Begin the dialogue with your doctor or dentist if you or a loved one suffers from any of the signs or symptoms listed above. Access to care is becoming much easier and treatment is often covered by your medical insurance.