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Sleep apnea is a disorder where breathing repeatedly stops while you sleep. The most common type of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea, occurs when the throat muscles relax, which collapses the soft tissues in the back of the throat and blocks the airway. If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, heart failure, depression, liver problems, or a worsening of ADHD.

Symptoms

How can you tell if you have sleep apnea? Here are a few of the signs you can watch for:

  • Abruptly waking in the night, gasping for breath
  • Loud snoring (especially if it is also followed by periods of silence)
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Difficult staying asleep
  • Your partner notices that you have stopped breathing while sleeping
  • Waking up with a headache, sore throat, or dry mouth
  • Forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Night sweats

Risk Factors

Some individuals are more likely to have sleep apnea because of the following risk factors:

  • Overweight
  • Over the age of 40
  • Male (sleep apnea is twice as likely to develop in men)
  • Family history of sleep apnea
  • Smoking (increases inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway)
  • Large tonsils or tongue
  • Small jaw or narrow airway
  • Nasal obstruction due to allergies, sinus problems, or deviated septum

Treatment

If you think you have sleep apnea, speak with your dentist. They will help you determine the best treatment option such as:

  • Losing weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Sleeping on your side rather than your back
  • Sleeping with an oral appliance which shifts the jaw to prevent airway collapse
  • Using a CPAP (continuous positive air pressure) device which supplies air and keeps the airway open
  • Having surgery to the airway, nose, or mouth if no other treatment option proves successful