What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition that occurs when a person experiences pauses in their breathing while asleep. People who have sleep apnea may stop breathing numerous times at night, often for a minute or longer. This can lead to dangerous side effects and long-term health risks if left untreated. Our dentists at Kois Dentistry offer advanced dental care solutions to effectively treat sleep apnea, helping patients manage the condition and prevent the cessation of breathing. To learn more about the condition and how our team customizes snore guards to treat mild to moderate sleep apnea, visit the sections below.
- Sleep Apnea in Children
- Sleep Apnea Symptoms
- Sleep Apnea Causes
- Sleep Apnea Side Effects
- Sleep Apnea Treatment
Sleep Apnea in Children
Snoring occurs in more than 10 percent of children, often due to allergies or an acute respiratory illness. Snoring can also indicate a more serious problem known as sleep-related breathing disorders (SRBD), which can include sleep apnea. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, 1 to 4 percent of children suffer from sleep apnea. Since an adequate amount of oxygen cannot reach the lungs, this can cause children to snore loudly, experience pauses in breathing, and wake up throughout the night.
As more and more children have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) over the past 10 years, research has shown that many do not actually have the condition. A recent study indicates that, instead, many of these children have a sleep-related breathing disorder that is causing similar behavioral problems.
This study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics in 2012, followed over 11,000 children starting when they were six months old and continuing for six years. Those with SRBD were at least 40 percent more prone to developing behavioral issues similar to ADHD by the age of seven, compared to kids without any breathing problems.
This study shows that children with symptoms similar to those of ADHD should be evaluated to determine if poor sleep quality could be a factor in their behavioral problems. Signs that children may suffer from sleep apnea or another breathing disorder include having abnormally high bursts of energy, a poor attention span, and difficulty cooperating—all of which are also experienced in those with ADHD.
What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea can be a particularly difficult problem to diagnose because many sufferers do not realize they have it. In many cases, a family member or partner is the first one to notice the altered breathing habits while their loved one is sleeping. Common signs that an adult has sleep apnea include the following:
- Loud snoring
- Choking or gasping for air at night
- Chronic headaches in the morning
- Persistent fatigue every day
- Restless sleep or insomnia
While adults typically feel tired due to interrupted sleep, children often have behavioral problems due to their poor sleep quality. No matter one’s age, having sleep constantly interrupted by breathing issues will affect their ability to function normally. Symptoms specific to children that may indicate they have sleep apnea or a sleep-related breathing disorder include the following:
- Loud snoring
- Long pauses in breathing while asleep
- Choking during the night
- Frequent tossing and turning
- Teeth grinding
- Waking several times in the night
- Having night panics
- Pattern of bed-wetting
- Drowsiness during the day
- Difficulty paying attention during school or at home
- Other behavioral issues, often similar to those of ADHD
If one or more of these symptoms have occurred, you should talk with your doctor about a possible sleep-related breathing disorder and have your child evaluated.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of the condition. This is often caused by the soft tissues and muscles in the back of the throat relaxing and closing the airway. Children with a sleep-related breathing disorder like sleep apnea experience frequent interruptions in their breathing while they sleep, since soft tissues like the tonsils or tongue can partially block their windpipe. When sleep apnea occurs, these tissues may vibrate as air passes, causing the sound of snoring. Patients may also gasp to catch their breath at night or stop breathing for extended periods of time. This breathing disorder is typically worse at night as people sleep on their back, causing the jaw to shift backwards and their tongue to rest closer to the airway. Excess weight and obesity tend to exacerbate this problem, since fatty tissue in the soft palate can decrease the airway opening.
Are There Any Side Effects to Sleep Apnea?
Since sleep apnea prevents sufferers from getting enough quality sleep at night, there are a number of side effects that can occur due to the continually interrupted sleep. This can include:
- Weight gain
- Memory loss
- Drowsy driving
- Sexual dysfunction
- Gastric reflux
When an individual experiences numerous breathing pauses while sleeping, this decreases the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream needed to reach the organs. This is how sleep apnea can become a life-threatening condition when left untreated.
Over time, the combination of poor quality sleep and inefficient oxygen flow can increase a person’s risk of developing serious health concerns. From hypertension and diabetes to stroke and heart disease, sleep apnea has been linked to a wide range of diseases—and even cardiac arrest in severe cases. Fortunately, it can be easily managed if diagnosed.
How Is Sleep Apnea Treated?
To receive a sleep apnea diagnosis, people must participate in a sleep study with a specialist, which is conducted to evaluate their sleep patterns. If mild to low moderate sleep apnea is detected, individuals can visit Kois Dentistry to obtain a custom-made snore guard to help manage their condition. These sleep appliances are custom-fitted to your unique anatomy to ensure your breathing passages remain open at night. As a result, patients are able to get a significantly better night’s sleep, feeling well-rested in the morning. When young patients are diagnosed with sleep apnea, they can often benefit from a type of child orthodontic treatment, like palatal expanders, depending on their stage of growth. Since they are still growing, the bone structure of their mouth can often be widened to allow for improved airflow.
For more severe sleep apnea cases, CPAP therapy or surgery may be necessary. CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy is a common form of managing sleep apnea. It works by delivering pressurized air via a tubing and mask system to help prevent the collapse of soft tissues in the airway. While effective, CPAP therapy is known as being an uncomfortable method of treatment, causing many individuals to not wear the device as needed. Since this system will only work if properly utilized, some patients may be better candidates for surgery. Treating sleep apnea with surgery typically involves removing excess or unnecessary tissues located near the back of the throat, such as the adenoids or tonsils. When surgery is performed for sleep apnea, the airway is able to remain more open at night, since enlarged tissue no longer blocks the breathing passages.
Although appliances like snore guards and CPAPs are not a replacement for healthy functional anatomy, seeking treatment with these solutions can often alleviate side effects and reduce the risk of severe health problems in the future. For more information about treating sleep apnea with snore guards, CPAP, or surgery, please contact us to schedule an appointment.