What is Sleep Apnea?

Posted on Oct 1, 2014 8:00:00 AM by Jeff Rubel

What is Sleep Apnea? | Coral West DentalWhen you hear about sleeping issues, you may think of snoring or insomnia. Both are common and well publicized. But there is another very common problem that isn’t nearly as well known: sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea affects an estimated 22 million people, and 80 percent of those affected are undiagnosed. How can such a prevalent condition be so ignored?

A major problem with sleep apnea is the difficulty in diagnosing it. A sleep apnea sufferer will have trouble discovering the issue themselves, since it only happens when the person is asleep. Doctors can’t diagnose it during an office visit. Most often, a family member or partner will notice the abnormal breathing patterns that occur with sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea explained

Sleep apnea is a breathing condition that causes the person suffering from it to have shallow or infrequent breathing while sleeping, or even pauses in breathing. Each breathing disturbance (or apnea) can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes, and apneas can occur 30 times an hour or more. 

There are three different kinds of sleep apnea: Central Sleep Apnea (CSA), Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), and a combination of the two called complex or mixed sleep apnea.

CSA occurs when your muscles aren’t receiving proper signals from the brain to control breathing. OSA involves excessive relaxation of the throat muscles. Of the three forms, OSA is by far the most common, accounting for 84 percent of all reported sleep apnea cases.

Consequences of sleep apnea

Because breathing is obstructed, sleep becomes fragmented due to sleep apnea. The result is very poor sleep quality, and you may also find yourself excessively sleepy during the day, which can lead to poor job performance or automobile accidents.

Aside from drowsiness, sleep apnea can have many other long-term health consequences. If untreated, sleep apnea can lead to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, weight gain, impotence or depression.


There are several treatments for sleep apnea that can limit the impact of the condition. Sleep apnea tends to affect overweight people more often (70 percent of sleep apnea victims are overweight or obese), so doctors will recommend losing weight. If you suffer from mild sleep apnea, a decongestant may be enough to help improve symptoms. There are also many devices that can help, such as oral appliances, which are worn in the mouth and adjust jaw position, or positive airway pressure devices, which use a breathing mask to continuously push air through the throat. In some cases, surgery may be needed.

If you think you might be suffering from sleep apnea, you should discuss your concerns with a doctor. A medical professional can properly diagnose the condition and recommend a treatment suitable for you. To read more, download our free eBook "Prevent the Toothache Before the Money Ache."

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