Sleep Apnea: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

Sleep Apnea: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

Jun 21, 2024

Sleep apnea, a widespread sleep disorder, impacts millions globally. Marked by breathing pauses or shallow breaths during sleep, it profoundly affects health and wellbeing. In this inclusive guide, we will explore what sleep apnea is, who it affects, its symptoms and causes, how it is diagnosed, treatment options available, and the importance of seeking medical evaluation for this condition.

What is Sleep Apnea?

A common sleep problem called sleep apnea is defined by recurrent bouts of disturbed breathing during sleep or apneas. Apneas may last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes and can happen frequently throughout the night. This condition is classified into two primary subtypes: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is the most common form, and central sleep apnea (CSA), each with distinct underlying mechanisms and treatment approaches.

Let’s have a look at the types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): This type of sleep apnea is the most widespread. It arises when the muscles in the throat relax excessively during sleep, causing the airway to constrict or close. This, in turn, leads to brief pauses or shallowness in breathing. OSA is frequently linked with loud snoring and can result in disturbed sleep patterns and daytime fatigue.
  • Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): Unlike OSA, CSA is less common and involves a problem with the brain’s respiratory control center. Central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs when the brain neglects to transmit the necessary signals to the respiratory muscles, causing disruptions in breathing patterns during sleep. This leads to pauses in breathing without any physical obstruction in the airway. CSA may be associated with underlying medical conditions such as heart failure or stroke.

Who Does Sleep Apnea Affect?

Sleep apnea is a condition disrupting sleep patterns and impacting individuals regardless of age, gender, or background. Nevertheless, specific factors could heighten the likelihood of developing sleep apnea, such as:

  • Age: Sleep apnea becomes more common as people age, particularly in adults over 40 years old.
  • Gender: Sleep apnea has a higher prevalence in men compared to women, but the risk for women rises following menopause.
  • Weight: Excess weight, particularly in the neck area, can intensify the risk of airway obstruction during sleep.
  • Family history: Having family members with sleep apnea may increase an individual’s risk.
  • Smoking: Smoking irritates the airways and can increase inflammation, making them more susceptible to obstruction.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can manifest through various symptoms, which may vary in severity. Common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud Snoring: Persistent and loud snoring is one of the hallmark symptoms of sleep apnea, especially when it is interrupted by pauses in breathing.
  • Morning Headaches: Waking up with headaches, which may be caused by decreased oxygen levels during sleep.
  • Difficulty Concentrating: Experiencing difficulty focusing, concentrating, or remembering things throughout the day.
  • Dry Mouth or Sore Throat: Upon awakening, it’s not uncommon to experience a sore throat or dryness in your mouth, often attributed to mouth breathing during sleep.

If you experience any of these symptoms, consult a dentist in 19010 for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Causes of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can arise from various factors contributing to breathing interruptions during sleep. Grasping the underlying causes is crucial for effective management and treatment. Here are some of the causes of sleep apnea:

  • Neurological Disorders: Certain neurological conditions, including stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or brainstem lesions, can disrupt the brain’s control over breathing, leading to central sleep apnea.
  • Chronic Nasal Congestion: Nasal congestion caused by allergies, sinus infections, or anatomical abnormalities can impair airflow through the nasal passages, increasing the likelihood of mouth breathing and airway obstruction during sleep.
  • Hormonal Changes: Hormonal changes, like those encountered by women during menopause and pregnancy, could exacerbate or contribute to the deterioration of sleep apnea symptoms. Changes in hormone levels may affect muscle tone and respiratory function.
  • Altered Sleep Patterns: An increased risk of sleep apnea episodes may be caused by disturbances to the normal architecture of sleep, such as inconsistent sleep-wake cycles, numerous awakenings throughout the night, or disturbed sleep schedules.

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

Diagnosing sleep apnea involves a holistic approach that includes reviewing medical history, conducting a physical examination, and performing sleep studies in specialized sleep clinics. The diagnostic process generally follows these steps:

  • Medical History: The dentist will review the patient’s medical history, including symptoms, sleep patterns, and any underlying health conditions or risk factors.
  • Physical Examination: Doctors may perform a physical evaluation to identify anatomical factors that might lead to airway blockages, such as obesity, enlarged tonsils, or a retruded jaw.
  • Sleep Study (Polysomnography): A sleep study is the primary diagnostic test for sleep apnea. A sleep facility or home utilizing portable monitoring equipment may conduct this overnight test. It records various physiological parameters during sleep, including breathing patterns, oxygen levels, heart rate, and brain activity.
  • Home Sleep Apnea Test (HSAT): In some cases, a simplified sleep study conducted at home may be appropriate for diagnosing obstructive sleep apnea in individuals with a high pretest probability and no significant comorbidities.
  • Additional Testing: In certain situations, additional tests such as imaging studies (e.g., CT scan or MRI) or specialized evaluations (e.g., drug-induced sleep endoscopy) may be recommended to assess airway anatomy and identify potential contributing factors to sleep apnea.

Following a sleep apnea diagnosis, the severity of the condition determines the choice of treatment approaches. While a medical doctor or sleep specialist will oversee the treatment plan, dentists, including some cosmetic dentists in Bryn Mawr, can sometimes be part of the treatment team. They may be involved in providing oral appliance therapy, which utilizes custom-made mouthpieces to improve airway patency during sleep.

How is Sleep Apnea Treated, and Is There a Cure?

Sleep apnea can be managed effectively through various treatment approaches, even though there is no known cure for the condition. Reducing associated health risks, improving sleep quality, and alleviating symptoms are the primary objectives of therapy. Some common ways that sleep apnea may be treated are:

  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Therapy: In addressing moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea, CPAP therapy is widely recognized as the primary treatment method. This approach entails utilizing a mask connected to a device or tool that delivers a continuous stream of pressurized air. This mechanism aids in keeping the airways unobstructed during sleep, ensuring uninterrupted breathing. Through sustaining a consistent airflow, individuals can achieve restful sleep and experience overall improved wellbeing.
  • Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) Therapy: BiPAP devices deliver two air pressure levels, higher during inhalation and lower during exhalation, which may be more comfortable for some patients.
  • Oral Appliance Therapy: Mandibular advancement devices, for example, are custom-fitted dental appliances that assist in realigning the jaw and tongue to avoid obstructing the airway while you sleep.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Engaging in weight loss, regular exercise, abstaining from alcohol and sedatives before bedtime, and adopting a side-sleeping position may assist in alleviating sleep apnea symptoms.
  • Surgical Interventions: Surgical procedures, such as uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP), tonsillectomy, or maxillomandibular advancement (MMA), may be recommended in select cases to address anatomical abnormalities contributing to airway obstruction.

While there is no cure for sleep apnea, effective management strategies can alleviate symptoms and reduce associated health risks.


Sleep apnea is a common sleep problem that significantly impacts one’s general health and wellbeing. Understanding its symptoms, causes, and treatment avenues is vital for effective management and enhanced quality of life. By seeking timely medical evaluation from healthcare specialists, including the cosmetic dentists near you, and adopting appropriate treatment strategies, you can better manage your sleep apnea and enjoy a restful night’s sleep.

Sleep Soundly Again: Book Your Consultation Today!

Are you ready to enhance your general health and quality of sleep? Resist the urge to let sleep apnea stop you. Make an appointment for a consultation with The Dental Spa – Mainline’s knowledgeable staff to start along the path to improved wellbeing and sleep. Contact us now to learn more about sleep apnea treatment options tailored to your needs.

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