Complete Guide to the Importance of Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treatment

A Complete Guide to the Importance of Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treatment

Obstructive sleep apnea, commonly referred to as OSA, can be deadly if left untreated. Untreated sleep apnea is extremely dangerous for a variety of reasons. Seeking treatment and following your treatment plan is the only way to effectively treat this dangerous sleep disorder that affects an estimated 22 million Americans. While that statistic seems frighteningly high, the truth is that the 22 million number is only a portion of those who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. An estimated 80% of moderate to severe OSA patients go undiagnosed. This means that an astonishing number of people are suffering day in and day out from a disorder they may not even know they have. And it’s one that could kill them if they don’t get treatment.

Before we dive into treatment options, let’s take a moment to talk about this disorder itself. It’s important to understand how it affects your body, the signs, and symptoms, as well as the contributing risk factors. We’ll also cover just how drastically it can impact nearly every facet of your health and your life. From there, we’ll take a deep dive into a variety of treatment options and cover how treatment not only lessens the symptoms but can actually reverse many of the health problems caused by the disorder.

First things first, let’s get up close and personal with the disorder taking the nation by storm.

The Discovery, Evolution, and History of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea has been around longer than doctors have had a name for it. It’s likely something that will continue on throughout time. However, diagnosis and treatment have evolved exponentially in recent decades. The history of sleep apnea is rather interesting. In fact, it dates back as far as Charles Dickens and his obscure novel by the name of “The Pickwick Papers.” This was the first place anyone has found any mention of sleep apnea in written form.

In Dickens’ novel, he describes a condition remarkably similar to OSA. Only back then, OSA didn’t exist. However, a 20th-century doctor recognized the symptoms and named the condition Pickwickian syndrome. At the time of the discovery, Pickwickian syndrome was a breathing condition that was believed to only affect obese individuals. We have since learned that this is not always the case. Nonetheless, Pickwickian syndrome was officially realized as a legitimate condition until 1965. The long gap in sleeping disorder history was finally broken when medical literature finally mentioned the condition which would come to be known as obstructive sleep apnea.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Today

OSA is described as a potentially deadly but treatable sleeping disorder that causes a cessation of breathing during sleep. These pauses range from seconds to minutes, and they can occur a few times per hour or closer to 50 episodes per hour. When breathing stops during sleep, it affects nearly every system in your body in one way or another, either due to the lack of adequate sleep or due to the drop in oxygen levels.

When most people think about sleep apnea, they envision themselves or their partner snoring the night away. And, while snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea, the condition goes well beyond just that. Not all snorers have sleep apnea, and not all people with sleep apnea snore.

Every doctor will agree that sleep is one of the major components of overall good health. When we get enough of it, we feel great, but without it, functionality, appearance, and performance all suffer. Sadly, recent studies indicate that up to seventy-five percent of the population has some sort of sleep issue at least a couple of nights per week. So, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone if you have trouble sleeping. Everyone suffers from a bout of insomnia from time to time or has trouble breathing at night due to allergies or the common cold. For those who suffer from chronic sleep issues, however, continuing on without treatment can become a serious problem and have a profound impact on both physical and mental health. While there are several potential causes of chronic sleep disturbance, OSA tends to be one of the most common afflictions. And, even if you do not suffer from obstructive sleep apnea yourself, chances are you know at least one person who does.

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

OSA is more than a simple sleeping disorder that causes someone to pause their breathing as they sleep. The disease actually causes the physical collapse of the airway due to the relaxation of the sufferer’s tongue and jaw muscles during these moments, hence the name. This collapse is what tends to lead to the sound of snoring. This level of relaxation happens as a person reaches a state of deep sleep called deep REM sleep. Generally, most people won’t have a problem with their airway remaining open and unobstructed, even as the muscles in the airway are entirely at ease. However, when someone with obstructive sleep apnea falls asleep and their airway muscles relax, the blockage occurs. It renders them unable to breathe for up to a minute or more. In severe cases, someone with OSA may stop breathing hundreds or thousands of times over the course of the night.

This disruptive affliction interferes with normal breathing patterns during sleep. It essentially deprives the body of much-needed oxygen. The lack of air and broken sleep causes a feeling of fatigue and lack of focus the next day. Typically, when someone stops breathing while they’re asleep, they are jolted awake by an automatic response from the brain. In other cases, people will roll over and continue to sleep, completely unaware their breathing had stopped during the night. However, in both instances, sleep apnea interferes with the healthy cycle of sleep and eventually causes problems.

This is one of the reasons why sleep apnea goes undiagnosed on many occasions. It can be difficult for the person suffering from the sleeping disorder to understand that they have it. They may not even know they’re waking up gasping for air throughout the night. In fact, in many cases, it’s often the partner or parent that urges the OSA sufferer to talk to a doctor. This is because it’s easier for the partner to see what’s happening with their loved one while they try to sleep than it is for the person with the condition.

It’s easy to explain away the exhaustion and symptoms associated with sleep apnea because they’re so common. Let’s take a look at the symptoms of living with untreated obstructive sleep apnea, what causes them, and talk about how they impact quality of life.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

There are a handful of sleep apnea symptoms that many people don’t realize are caused by the undiagnosed sleep disorder. Snoring often tops the charts, but as we mentioned earlier, not all snorers have sleep apnea, and not all sleep apnea patients snore. Aside from possible snoring, jolting awake, difficulty staying asleep, restlessness, insomnia, or waking up and gasping for air, most symptoms actually reveal themselves during the day.

Daytime symptoms of sleep apnea include excessive drowsiness, fatigue, problems with concentration or memory, slower reflexes, headaches, dry mouth, sore throat, and anything else that you might expect when your sleep is disrupted several times per night.

The longer you suffer from undiagnosed sleep apnea, the worse your symptoms become. It affects your entire body, head to toe. You’re deprived of the oxygen you need for your body to function properly as well as the rest your body needs to repair itself and stay healthy. When your body cannot rest properly, it cannot heal. This can eventually lead to you feeling aches and pains all over your body. It can also lead to you getting sick far more often.

The effects on your brain also compound over time. The less good sleep you get, the foggier your mind becomes. This impacts your ability to function and concentrate, including whether or not you are even safe to drive. This is why it’s so important to go in for regular health checkups with your primary care provider. Be proactive about your health, even if you’re not sure that anything serious is going on. You may be surprised at just how many symptoms are connected by sleep apnea. Your doctor may be able to piece together the puzzle you didn’t even know you had. Discuss your symptoms with your doctor and they can get you on the right track to diagnosing and treating your obstructive sleep apnea.

Many cases of sleep apnea are actually diagnosed because a patient came in with a different health problem and treatment wasn’t working. And, with millions of people suffering from sleep apnea in the US, it’s no surprise this is the case. We’ll cover in detail the other health complications that result from OSA, but make sure you’re being open and honest with your doctor and yourself about how you’re feeling on a day-to-day basis. A sleep apnea diagnosis may make more sense than you think.

Diagnosing OSA

If you or your partner suspect that you may have sleep apnea, it’s important to consult your health care provider sooner than later. This is vital not only for your own health, but because diagnosing sleep apnea can take a little bit of time and you don’t want to delay and risk worsening symptoms. Not to mention, if you want your insurance to help cover your sleep apnea treatment then you need to play by their rules.

After speaking with your health care provider about your symptoms, they may recommend that you participate in a sleep study. A sleep study is the best way to diagnose OSA. Sleep studies are done either in a sleep laboratory, a hospital, or sometimes in the comfort of your own home.

During the study, you will be hooked up to sensors that will monitor your blood oxygen levels, respiration rate, brainwave activity, leg movements, and how many partial inhalations are taken each hour. These sensors will relay the data they collect to a computer. After your doctor has had a chance to review the information, they will be able to make a diagnosis.

Once you’ve been diagnosed, your doctor may ask you a few questions about your lifestyle before recommending a treatment option. For example, if you travel frequently then you’re less likely to comply with a treatment plan that involves lugging around a very large and heavy machine. The goal of treatment is to create a plan you will follow to effectively treat your sleep apnea. You can only defend against the negative effects of sleep apnea if you’re actively participating and following in your treatment plan.

Sleep Apnea Treatment Options

Depending on your situation, your doctor may suggest some OSA treatments as a preference to others. But it’s important to make sure you are working together to create a realistic treatment plan that fits in with your life. Popular treatment options include machines to keep you breathing throughout the night, oral appliances designed to keep your airway from collapsing, and even lifestyle changes to lower your risk factors and perhaps even lifestyle changes to lessen symptoms or even reverse them.

We’ll talk about these more popular treatment options to help you understand the options available to you for treating your obstructive sleep apnea.

Lifestyle Changes

There are some things that many people do in their everyday life that they may not think of as a problem but could actually worsen their sleep apnea. For example, smoking is considered to be a risk factor for OSA. This is because smoking causes inflammation in the airway and fluid retention in the throat and upper airway. These things both can restrict your airway and contribute to the obstructions that stop your breathing as you sleep. Stopping smoking is not only great for your overall health, but it could help reduce your sleep apnea episodes as well.

Using a saline spray, nasal dilator, breathing strips, or a neti pot just prior to bedtime may help your nasal passages stay open until you’re able to successfully stop smoking. This is also a great tip for those suffering from allergies or illness.

Alcohol, sleeping pills, some medications, and other sedatives, when taken at bedtime, can relax the muscles in your throat so much that they can interfere with breathing while asleep. While these things are generally believed to improve sleep, they can actually worsen your situation if you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. Many people turn to these remedies because they are tired during the day or feel as though they’re not getting enough sleep at night. By treating your OSA and improving your quality of sleep, you will likely be able to sleep better without having to turn to these options.

Being overweight is another contributing factor when it comes to sleep apnea. This is because as people put on weight, the tissue in the back of the throat thickens and can greatly contribute to airway obstruction. Losing excess weight can improve your sleep apnea while also helping with other medical conditions. Studies have found that poor sleep quality actually contributes to weight gain. Treating your sleep apnea will improve your quality of sleep and should make it easier to lose any extra weight.

Keeping a regular sleep schedule can also help reduce your sleep apnea episodes. When you are overtired, you tend to quit breathing more often. Many people don’t realize that sleep is just as important as what you eat and how much you exercise. It’s also good to break the habit of using electronic screens right before bed. Non-stimulating activities such as listening to music or reading can help wind the brain down in preparation for a good night of sleep.

Other sleep routine changes you can make are to avoid “sleeping in” on the weekends. This generally makes it harder for you to wake up on Monday and then your mind and body are playing catch up on sleep for a few days each week. Just when you get your rhythm back, you sleep in again and the cycle renews. Also, avoid caffeine and heavy meals a few hours prior to going to bed to help you sleep better. If you are hungry, eat a small snack to avoid going to bed on an empty stomach. But don’t eat anything you know upsets your stomach or anything too heavy or full of sugar.

It’s also a good idea to avoid exercising prior to bedtime. This is a time where you should be relaxing while physically and mentally preparing to rest. It’s also best to avoid bright lights at night to help signal to your body that bedtime is near. Keeping your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool, makes it a much more sleep-friendly space. Of course, none of these adjustments to your sleep routine will cure sleep apnea itself. If you suspect that you or a loved one has sleep apnea, it’s important to get diagnosed and begin treatment. Many people find that it’s easier to keep a sleep schedule once they begin their sleep apnea treatment.

Another seemingly simple change to your sleep routine is to sleep in a different position. Sleeping on your side as opposed to your back can help keep your airway open. If you have a habit of rolling onto your back, then you can sew a tennis ball into the back of your pajama top to discourage you from rolling onto your back while you’re asleep. You could also try elevating the head of your bed by six inches or so or using a wedge pillow or a special cervical pillow to elevate your body from the waist up to help.  

Making lifestyle changes in conjunction with your sleep apnea treatment plan can help you get the rest your body needs and deserves. Treating your OSA is a great way to begin working these changes into your life and can actually make these lifestyle changes easier since you’ll be getting adequate rest.

CPAP Treatment

If you are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, it’s likely that your doctor may recommend a CPAP machine. In fact, OSA treatment often begins with a CPAP machine which, while highly effective, is not tolerated by almost half of all sleep apnea patients. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. The machine plugs into an electrical outlet and connects to a hose. At the other end of the hose, there’s a mask that will either fit over just the nose or both the mouth and nose. This mask must be worn all night for you to experience the benefits of the machine.

The machine gently blows pressurized air through the airways at a constant pressure to keep them from closing. This allows you to fall into a deeper sleep without your body being constantly awakened by breathing pauses.

Some people tolerate CPAP treatment very well. However, for others, there are complications. There are many styles of CPAP masks on the market and some people have a difficult time finding one that is both comfortable and effective. Others don’t do well having the mask on their face all night regardless as to if it’s comfortable. For people who travel a lot or often find themselves away from electricity, having a device that needs to have a constant flow of power to work is problematic. Some people are just bothered by the noise or vibration or even the feeling of the flowing air.

There are a variety of CPAP machines on the market, some are even portable. However, it is important to remember that if you’re not continuously using your treatment device for the entire night, night after night, then you aren’t getting the full benefits from your treatment, and you may be putting yourself at risk of further health complications. Since sleep apnea treatment is vital for both the short-term and long-term health of individuals suffering from this dangerous sleeping disorder, inadequate treatment is a gamble for your life. If you find yourself struggling with your treatment plan, then it’s a good idea to consider alternate options.

Oral Appliance Therapy Treatment

With millions of people suffering from OSA and at least half of them unable to tolerate CPAP device, another treatment method was developed. Custom oral appliances designed to help keep the airway open are increasing in popularity as a viable treatment option for sleep apnea.

The mouthpiece is worn while the patient sleeps. It helps move the lower jaw into a comfortable position that allows the tissues at the back of the throat to relax in a way that doesn’t block the airway. This helps give the patient a safe and quiet way to treat their sleep apnea.

These sleep apnea oral appliances are created by dentists with special training in the field of dental sleep medicine. These appliances have been shown to effectively treat mild to moderate sleep apnea in many patients and may be used for more severe cases when the patient is CPAP intolerant. Most sleep apnea patients fall into the mild to moderate category. However, it’s still vitally important that they treat their sleep disorder. But instead of dealing with a treatment option that isn’t working for them, they can turn to a dentist certified in treating OSA.

These certified dentists, such as Mark Levy DDS, help patients treat their OSA by using these comfortable and easily portable oral appliances. They’re similar in size and shape to a mouth guard that you commonly see used in sports. OSA patients who follow through with their treatment using these oral devices start to show improvement almost immediately. They quickly notice that they sleep better and are more alert, focused, and have improved memory. Many other health issues related to sleep apnea begin to improve or resolve with treatment as well.

Mark Levy, Certified Sleep Apnea Dentist

Mark Levy DDS has a deep passion for treating OSA and other disorders. He stays current on all sleep apnea research and treatment options to offer his patients only the best. His goal is to effectively treat sleep apnea patients safely to help them live a long, happy, and healthy life. He also dedicates a fair amount of his time to spreading awareness about OSA and teaching other dental professionals about the disorder and treatment options.

Dr. Levy has been helping sleep apnea patients using oral appliance therapy since 2005. He’s a member of the Academy of Clinical Sleep Disorders Disciplines and the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. He’s compiled several hundreds of hours in education. He also spends time researching methods and technology to provide his patients with the best possible treatment plans.

Oral Appliances for Sleep Apnea for Long Term Treatment

During the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, research showed that oral appliances are able to remain effective in the fight against obstructive sleep apnea for several years. These treatment options reduce daytime sleepiness and fatigue while improving quality of life. Patients in the study have all been using oral appliances between 31 and 53 months. This showed excellent long-term compliance, especially when compared to other treatment methods such as CPAP machines or sleeping harnesses to keep the wearer on their side.

This outstanding compliance record of oral appliances led to a positive effect on both cardiac rhythm and blood pressure as well. This is particularly notable considering sleep apnea is often associated with possible heart failure due to the functional and structural changes in the heart that take place as a result of the sleeping disorder. Effective treatment with oral appliances can actually help reverse the damage and show improvement in structure and function of the left ventricle. Treatment can also help lower blood pressure, which will result in less strain on the heart leading to improvements.

Other Health Complications Caused by OSA

Obstructive Sleep Apnea wreaks havoc on the body. It causes a plethora of health concerns ranging from fatigue, snoring, sore throats, headaches, broken sleep to more severe conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, hypertension, and even death. This is why it’s so important to begin sleep apnea treatment sooner than later. Without intervention, the vicious cycle will continue until your body can no longer handle the effects of the disorder.

Poor sleep quality also contributes to weight gain, increased anxiety and irritability, increased stress hormones, and more. These challenges can drastically reduce quality of life and make it difficult for people to function effectively from day to day.

In 2018 researchers found that beginning OSA treatment as soon as possible after a stroke or mini-stroke greatly improved speech impairment and other neurological symptoms and physical functions such as walking.

The relationship between sleep apnea and stroke is so close that The National Stroke Guidelines recommend sleep apnea testing for patients who suffered a stroke. In fact, treating sleep apnea proved to have more benefits than an FDA-approved stroke treatment drug according to research scientist Dawn Bravata M.D. who led a major study. About two-thirds of stroke victims suffer from OSA. Unfortunately, not all doctors make this connection. However, research indicates that the sooner stroke patients are diagnosed and begin OSA treatment, the more effective that treatment is. The patients participating in this particular study were from five different hospitals across two states. The results were clear. Early diagnosis and treatment after a stroke even provides the best results.

The Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Inflammation

In addition to contributing to heart problems and stroke, sleep apnea has also been linked to inflammation. Researchers recently did a meta-analysis with data from over 20 studies and 1,000 patients. The data strongly suggested that sleep apnea treatment reduced levels of the two proteins associated with inflammation. The study originally started with CPAP treatment, which is effective, but about half of patients are unable to tolerate the device or stop using it. This is why it’s so important that options like oral appliance therapy are also offered as treatment for the disorder.

Sleep Apnea and Your Sex Life

Another connection many people don’t realize is that treating sleep apnea can also help improve your sex life. Men who complained of erectile dysfunction in conjunction with sleep apnea with an average age of 46 underwent six months of OSA treatment. The ED issues resolved in nearly half of the cases while most of the men reported having more energy and improved satisfaction in their sex lives.

Make Sleep Apnea Treatment a Priority

As you can see, untreated sleep apnea can easily be detrimental to your health. It’s important that if you suspect you or a loved one has sleep apnea that you seek out diagnosis and treatment early on. The earlier you begin treatment, the more effective the results. You don’t want to continue living your life with a greater increase of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, or even death.

And, if you’re worried about being able to comply with a CPAP treatment plan, look into using a customized oral appliance instead. Not only do they provide great results, but they also are one of the easiest treatment plans to keep up on because they’re noninvasive, small, customized for effectiveness and comfort, and provide the treatment you need without having to worry about cleaning and maintaining a costly machine.

Reach out to Sleep Better Columbus today to learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea using oral appliances.