Sleep apnea is now recognized as a common disorder that can have serious consequences for your health and for your sense of well-being.
An "apnea" is where breathing stops for more than 10 seconds. This can be due to an actual obstruction in the airway (generally by the tongue or soft palate) producing an obstructive sleep apnea. An apnea can also be produced by lack of breathing effort by the brain producing what is called a central sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea is much more common than central sleep apnea, and occurs when the body tries to breathe but there is no air flow because the upper airway is blocked by the tongue or soft palace. Obstructive sleep apnea is not confined to one age group, sex, weight, or race; however, it does seem to be more common in patients who are obese and in men.
A central sleep apnea is where the brain "turns off" and fails to tell the breathing muscles to contract. Individuals with central sleep apnea will be seen to have no breathing effort for at least ten seconds, often followed by increased breathing effort for another period of time. Central sleep apnea is often caused by diseases of the central nervous system (brain) as with a stroke or advanced dementia, or by various heart diseases.
With both obstructive and central sleep apnea, breathing can stop for up to 100 times per hour, so that the patient may reach the point where he is spending more time at night NOT breathing than actually breathing.
When breathing stops, oxygen levels may drop significantly. Low oxygen levels throughout an entire sleep night may seriously affect the brain, heart, and blood vessels. Recent studies have demonstrated that patients with sleep apnea have a much greater chance of heart problems (including heart attacks), and congestive heart failure, hypertension, and stroke.
Frequently, the patient with severe sleep apnea is not even aware of his problem. He may have faint recollections of waking up in the night short of breath or "smothering" but often assumes this feeling is due to another health problem. Sometimes, patient may dream they are drowning or running a race where they cannot catch their breath. It is a truly uncomfortable feeling to not be able to breathe at night.
However, patients with sleep apnea (either obstructive or central) often feel very sleepy during the daytime. These patient may have the embarrassing ability to fall asleep inappropriately during the daytime (because they are so sleepy from their inability to breathe correctly at night). They may fall asleep while waiting at a red light, watching television, talking with somebody on the phone, at work, or worst of all - while driving. Patients with obstructive sleep apnea are four to five times more likely to have a car accident due to their sleepiness.
Patients with sleep apnea often develop other problems as well, such as depression, irritability, and sexual dysfunction. Children with undiagnosed sleep apnea often become hyperactive and develop behavioral problems at school and find themselves having learning difficulties because they are so tired.
Treatment for Sleep Apnea
Over the past two decades, treatment for obstructive and central sleep apnea has been revolutionized. Often, it can be treated by continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). CPAP is a device that puts some air pressure into a mask that is worn over the nose or nose and mouth. This air pressure helps to hold the throat open while sleeping at night so that the airway does not get closed off and sleep apnea is treated. CPAP is the most effective, cost-effective treatment option for patients with sleep apnea, and can usually treat the disorder entirely in the majority of patients.
Some patients - especially those with an additional problem of heart or lung disease - find themselves unable to wear a mask at night. These patients may improve with surgical procedures or a dental prosthesis. Surgical procedures try to open the airway up by removing excess tissue in the back of the throat that may include the soft palate and tongue base. A dental prosthesis can be worn at night, adjusted for the individual patient, and pull the lower jaw out from the face at night. By pulling the lower out from the face, the airway in the back of the throat is opened and the patient is able to sleep better at night.
Here at Sleep Solutions, we have partnered with other health care professionals in the community who have particular interest in sleep medicine. We have worked with several ear, nose and throat (ENT) physicians in the community who often are able to treat or reduce the amount of sleep apnea a patient has at night through surgical intervention. There are also dentists in the local area who are also interested in working with patients who have sleep apnea.
It is the multi-disciplinary approach to treating the patient with sleep apnea that produces our excellent results tailored to the individual patient's wants and needs.
When a patient is successfully treated for sleep apnea, the results can be truly astounding and very rewarding for everybody. The patient will feel much better, being able to stay awake during the daytime. Also, treatment often produces increased mental clarity, reduced headaches, and a much happier spouse because the snoring is finally gone! We have had people who were unable to work due to their fatigue being able to work full-time and literally turn their lives around. After successful treatment of their sleep apnea, most patients wouldn't part with their CPAP machine for anything, and take their CPAP machine wherever they travel - even for a day!
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Sleep Solutions of Tennessee
315 North Washington Avenue
Cookeville, TN 38501
931-528-7449 - Phone
931-528-8015 - Fax
866-627-5337 - Toll Free