Obstructive Sleep Apnea’s Hidden Dangers
There are three types of sleep apnea, but the most common is obstructive sleep apnea. It occurs when a blockage in your airway doesn’t allow oxygen to pass through. When your body realizes it can’t get the oxygen it needs, it’ll awaken you to resume breathing. This lack of oxygen and fragmented sleep is detrimental to your body and brain.
Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
Among the first sleep apnea symptoms that you’ll notice is excessive daytime sleepiness. If you’ve ever been tired from a late night and felt yourself falling asleep during a meeting, you know how hard it is to stay awake and pay attention. This ends up becoming frustrating. People with sleep apnea feel this extreme tiredness all the time. Falling asleep during a boring meeting puts you in danger of losing your job, but more importantly, it puts you in danger of falling asleep while operating heavy machinery or while driving a car. This puts you at risk, as well as everyone else on the road.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic and Safety estimates that 328,000 motor vehicle accidents are caused by sleepy drivers each year in the US, with 6,400 being fatal crashes.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and obstructive sleep apnea can cause it. When you stop breathing repeatedly at night, your brain starts to panic. It releases stress hormones that constrict your blood vessels, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure.
Sleep apnea also changes the pressure in your chest cavity. When you attempt to inhale with a blocked airway, the pressure in your chest increases. This can damage your heart, leading to arterial fibrillation, issues with blood flow to the heart, and heart failure.
Oxidative stress is also a concern for those with sleep apnea. The constant changes in blood oxygen levels cause inflammation in your body which can lead to heart problems. Heart problems that can arise from sleep apnea are as follows:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Heart attack
- Arterial fibrillation
- Heart arrhythmia
- Heart failure
Medications and Surgery
If you have sleep apnea, be sure to disclose this to your physician or surgeon whenever you are getting a new medication or undergoing a medical procedure. Also, check on the medication you already take—prescribed or over-the-counter—to make sure that it doesn’t try to aid in your sleep.
It may sound backward, but medications that aid in sleep are dangerous for those with obstructive sleep apnea. These medications relax the muscles in your airway further, causing a larger obstruction. This means that those with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea may experience severe sleep apnea due to sleep-aid medications.
Surgery can be dangerous for those with sleep apnea, too, due to the nature of anesthesia. Sleep apnea can make the effects of anesthesia more pronounced and make it more difficult for you to wake up after your procedure is finished. This doesn’t mean you need to avoid necessary procedures, but it does mean you need to talk to your doctor about your sleep apnea so they can adjust medications accordingly. Having an effective sleep apnea treatment every other time you sleep can lower the impact of your sleep apnea during surgery.
Sleep apnea and diabetes can go hand in hand and can make each other worse. Sleep apnea decreases the amount of oxygen in your blood and can make you more insulin-resistant. This is bad for people who already have diabetes, and it can even aid in the development of type two diabetes.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
The link between dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and sleep apnea is unclear. However, it’s been noted in numerous studies, like this one from Michigan Medicine’s Sleep Disorders Center, that those who are treating their sleep apnea are less likely to develop a dementia condition. Researchers believe that fluctuations in oxygen levels can lead to cellular death and an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for those with sleep apnea to also experience depression. The detrimental symptoms of sleep apnea make it difficult to enjoy your life and have relationships with family, friends, and coworkers. These strained relationships and disinterest in your usual enjoyable activities can cause people to feel alone and defeated.
Weakened Immune System
Sleep apnea puts you at risk for other illnesses because it weakens your immune system. Those who can’t get enough sleep and don’t have an adequate blood oxygen level have lower immune systems and get sick at a higher rate than those without.
Relationship stress is another consequence of untreated sleep apnea. Not only do you not have the energy to participate in your important relationships, but the constant loud snoring can also cause a significant strain on your sleeping partner.
Since you are snoring so loud (common in those with obstructive sleep apnea), they can’t get the sleep they need either. This type of situation makes it difficult to be empathetic and compassionate toward each other.
Factors that Put You at Risk for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
If you’re concerned about sleep apnea, take a look at these risk factors. Having or not having certain factors doesn’t preclude you from sleep apnea, but people with these qualities are more likely to experience obstructive sleep apnea. Always talk to your Kansas City sleep dentist, Dr. Raman, if you’re concerned you may have sleep apnea.
- Being overweight
- Narrow airway
- Old age
- Chronic nasal congestion
- Tobacco use
- Drug use
- Alcohol use
- Sleep medications
Avoid Health Complications Due to Sleep Apnea
Your Kansas City sleep dentist, Dr. Raman Prabu, can help treat your sleep apnea so you can finally get the good night’s sleep your body is craving. Call (816) 436-4422 or make an appointment online.