What Is Sleep Apnea? Hampton Roads, VA

As we explain Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), please understand that it is very important to seek medical attention if sleep apnea is suspected.

A sufferer can completely stop breathing numerous times per hour, and this can quickly turn into a deadly situation during the night or lead to dangerous situations in everyday life. It is a slow, persistent drain on both the length of life and the quality of life.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is gaining tremendous attention as an acute public health concern. A study by the Institute of Medicine reports that 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from disorders of sleep and wakefulness. One in five car accidents is associated with driver sleepiness.

How does sleep apnea occur?

The term sleep apnea is derived from the Greek etymology meaning “without breath”. Breathing pauses can last anywhere from several seconds to minutes and happen as often as 30 times or more per hour.

  • OSA occurs when the muscles and tissue surrounding the throat relax too much during sleep, blocking the airway from collapsing and keeping air from reaching the lungs. Frequently, the tongue then falls into the back of the throat, which tightens the blockage and prevents oxygen from entering the lungs.
  • The blockage causes carbon dioxide levels to skyrocket in the blood and oxygen levels to decrease. Therefore, the heart has to pump harder and faster to compensate for the lack of oxygen.
  • At some point during this blockage, the brain (hopefully!) senses an imbalance and partially awakens you so you can reestablish the flow of oxygen. This cycle then repeats constantly throughout the night, causing you to never get a truly restful night of sleep.
  • If the brain does not sense the imbalance in time, or the heart / cardiovascular system is too stressed during the event, then a heart attack or worse may occur.
  • The brain sends a message to the body telling it to wake up to restart the breathing process. People with sleep apnea will be partially awake as they struggle to breathe, and this is often accompanied by loud snoring or choking sensations.
  • Because people with sleep apnea don’t always wake up completely during the episodes, they are often unaware they have a sleeping disorder, and their sleep apnea can remain undiagnosed.

Does sleep matter?

The Quality of Your Sleep Affects Everything…

Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and overall safety when operating machinery, driving a car, or participating in strenuous activity.

The way you feel while you’re awake depends a lot on what happens while you’re sleeping. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health.

In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development. The damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant (such as a car crash), or it can harm you over time. For example, ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems. It also can affect how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others.

  • If your brain is not given a chance to cycle through the sleep stages many times at night, it does not have a chance to “defragment” itself.
  • If your body does not get enough oxygen while you are sleeping, your body will be deprived of oxygen and slowly suffer very dangerous consequences.

Can Obstructive Sleep Apnea go away on its own?

No. It is extremely rare for this serious condition to go away on its own without medical intervention. The only way to truly rid yourself of sleep apnea is to lose weight or get surgery to remove excess tissue from your airway passage. We can help you control your symptoms and protect your overall health. Dr. Harper can advise you on ways to fix sleep apnea naturally as well.

Diagnosis and Treatment

It can be difficult to realize that you have sleep apnea. If you have a partner or roommate, they may be able to tell you if they notice you snoring in the night. You may also consciously wake yourself up and realize that you were snoring and woke yourself up with a noise. You might notice that you have headaches when you wake up in the morning and are fatigued throughout the day. Depression sets in, and you get easily mad or irritated by things.

If you’re noticing just one of these things, it’s easy to push it to the back of your mind and not worry about it. But it’s crucial that you contact our office as soon as you notice symptoms. This is especially true if you have multiple of these symptoms. You want to bring concerns to a professional as soon as possible to avoid the harsher consequences of untreated sleep apnea.

At your consultation, we’ll do a complete physical exam and talk to you about your medical history and current conditions. We’ll ask questions about any symptoms you’re having and your sleep habits. Typically, a sleep study is needed to properly diagnose sleep apnea. There are versions that are done in the office or ones that you can take and do at home. We’ll help you determine which option is the best option for you.

CPAP machines are usually the most common treatment option for sleep apnea. But they’re uncomfortable and can be hard for people to sleep with. We focus on oral appliance therapy. It positions your jaw while you sleep so that your airway remains open throughout the night. In severe cases, surgery can be done as well.

What issues can sleep apnea cause?

Sleep apnea causes extra stress on the body, particularly the heart. The side effects of untreated sleep apnea are diverse. Serious health problems that can be triggered by sleep apnea include:

  • Chronic sleepiness or fatigue
  • Heart attack
  • Recurrent heart attack
  • Heartburn (GERD)
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure / Hypertension
  • Stroke
  • Frequent morning headaches
  • Obesity
  • Abnormal heartbeats / atrial fibrillation

Schedule A Consultation Today

Do you have concerns, or have you been diagnosed by your physician with sleep apnea, OSA, or sleep-disordered breathing? Schedule a consultation with Dr. Harper to learn more about the benefits of oral appliance therapy, if it is appropriate for you, and how you can improve many aspects of your overall physical well-being with treatment. Dr. Harper is currently accepting patients from Newport News, Chesapeake, and Norfolk, Virginia.