Sleep apnea is a serious and potentially life-threatening sleep disorder that may stop you from breathing at night for seconds to minutes at a time. Robbed of the oxygen you need to repair and restore your organs, you may awaken unrested, groggy, and irritable.
More than a quarter of adults in the United States have some form of sleep apnea, which tends to develop or worsen with age.
Most people with sleep apnea have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), in which some portion of their anatomy — such as a recessed jaw or large tongue — physically cuts off the flow of oxygen through their airway.
Others suffer from central sleep apnea (CSA), in which their brain doesn’t remind them to breathe regularly throughout the night. Still others suffer from a mix of OSA and CSA.
No matter what kind of sleep apnea you have, ignoring it puts you at risk of serious complications. Without deep, restorative sleep and the oxygen it brings, you may develop or have:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart attack
- Cognitive decline
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
Kimberly Bolling, MD, is an internist and sleep specialist who diagnoses and treats sleep apnea at our Bowie, Maryland, office. If you have sleep apnea and want to avoid its serious complications, you must treat it. Ignoring sleep apnea puts your health in peril.
Use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine
The most well known treatment for all types of sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which gently forces air through your nasal passages all night long to keep your airways open.
Although initially cumbersome, a CPAP machine dramatically improves the length and quality of your sleep. Be sure you work with Dr. Bolling if you have trouble learning how to use CPAP comfortably.
Once you pass the learning curve, you notice how much better and more rested you feel in the morning. Even better, CPAP actually reverses the brain damage that stems from sleep apnea’s oxygen deprivation.
In one study, women and men with untreated sleep apnea show significantly reduced white matter in key parts of the brain. After a year of CPAP therapy, however, white-matter abnormalities almost completely reversed. Subjects also reported feeling more alert. Even their performance on cognitive tests improved.
Or try an oral appliance
If you have mild sleep apnea, or if you can’t tolerate CPAP after giving it a good several months’ try, you may opt for an oral appliance instead. An oral appliance doesn’t force air into your airways, doesn’t require tubes or a machine, and is easily cared for and transported.
An FDA-cleared oral appliance for sleep apnea only works for OSA. It looks something like a nightguard for teeth grinding or a sports guard.
However, in addition to covering your teeth to reduce the risk of bruxism (i.e., teeth grinding, which often goes hand-in-hand with sleep apnea), the appliance places your jaw forward and your tongue down. The customized device therefore prevents your jaw or your tongue from rolling backward and cutting off your air supply.
If you travel a lot, you might find that an oral appliance better suits your lifestyle. Of course, you could always use CPAP at home and an appliance on the road.
Sleep apnea doesn’t go away on its own. In fact, it tends to get worse with time and age. Since your body’s repair systems already tend to slow down with age, you can’t afford to deprive yourself of a good night’s sleep and the steady supply of oxygen it brings.
Find the sleep apnea treatment that works for you today so you can feel better tomorrow and preserve your health in the future. Call us today at 301-352-0090 for a sleep study or sleep apnea treatment. You can also request an appointment online.