A Problem Even More Dangerous Than Texting While Driving
Untreated Sleep Apnea can be just as dangerous as texting while driving!
It’s hard to open a newspaper these days without finding a story about texting while driving — and that’s not surprising, considering how dangerous it can be. What is surprising is that another major driving hazard, called obstructive sleep apnea, doesn’t get the same kind of attention.
Nighttime Snoring, Daytime Exhaustion
People with obstructive sleep apnea literally stop breathing for as long as 30 seconds at a time while they sleep. Then, when their bodies realize they are starved of oxygen, they wake up gasping. And this doesn’t happen once or twice. It can happen as often as 400 times a night.
Surprisingly, most people don’t actually wake up each time it happens. In fact, if there’s no one around to hear them snoring and gasping, they may have no idea they have a problem.
But they don’t sleep normally — and as a result they end up exhausted the next day.
Danger on the Road…
That puts them at serious risk of falling asleep while driving, particularly when they’re on monotonous roads like the interstates. In fact, the American Thoracic Society estimates that up to 20% of crashes on these roads are caused by sleepiness.1
And it’s a bigger problem than you might think. The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea — but as many as 80% of them are unaware they have this dangerous condition.2
… And Off
As serious as the problem of driving while exhausted is, it’s only one of the dangers facing people with untreated sleep apnea.
- The fact that sleep apnea causes sudden drops in blood oxygen increases the risk of high blood pressure. (The more severe the sleep apnea, the greater the risk.)
- Stroke risk increases as well and, if you have underlying heart disease, sleep apnea can even lead to sudden death.
- Obstructive sleep apnea can also cause congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation and other vascular problems.
- In addition, it can increase complications of surgery and some medications, and lead to memory problems, headaches, mood swings and depression.3
What’s more, while it has long been recognized that being overweight or obese increases the risk of obstructive sleep apnea, sleep experts have recently become aware that this is actually a two way street.
Current thinking is that too little restful sleep may be as much of a contributor to obesity as too much food and too little exercise.4
Relief — at Least for Some
In sleep apnea, throat muscles that keep your airway open when you’re awake relax too much when you sleep, causing your airway to become partially or fully blocked. It’s this blocking that causes the loud snoring and gasping other people may have told you about, as well as the dangerous drop in blood oxygen levels.5 (NIH)
Treatment is aimed at keeping your airway open, most commonly by using a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine.
These machines have a mask that fits over your nose and mouth and forces air into your throat to help keep it open.
When CPAP therapy works, it can make a life-changing difference. But, unfortunately, for many people, it can have some uncomfortable side effects, including claustrophobia, dry mouth, runny nose, even stomach bloating. With the result that many people simply can’t tolerate their machines.
A More Comfortable Alternative
Fortunately, my team and I can offer you an effective alternative that’s both easier to use and more comfortable.
Called a Mandibular Advancement Device, this FDA-approved appliance gently repositions your lower jaw to help keep your throat open so you can breathe comfortably.
Similar in shape to a retainer, they work without tubes, masks or noise, so most people find them easy to tolerate. And they love how much better they feel after finally getting a good night’s sleep.
Bottom line: if the people you live with are complaining about your snoring — or you find yourself exhausted day after day — it’s time to visit your doctor and find out if sleep apnea could be the problem.
Then, if it is, give us a call and let us help you start breathing better, feeling better and enjoying life again.
Dr. Andrea Stevens is a cosmetic and family dentist in practice in Kanata, Ontario. If you have dental questions, you can call her at 613-271-7091 or visit her at kanatacosmeticdentist.com Please also feel free to leave comments or questions below, and Dr. Stevens will be happy to answer!