Is Sleep Apnea Dangerous?

Feb 08, 2024
Is Sleep Apnea Dangerous?
Millions of Americans suffer from sleep apnea, turning what should be restful sleep into numerous episodes of breathing disruptions and restarts. Although it’s annoying and makes you wake up tired, is it dangerous? Read on.

Sleeping with a snoring partner is often the fodder for many funny stories when friends and family get together. But if you count yourself among the household members within earshot of the 90 million Americans who snore, you are all too aware that sleepless nights are no laughing matter. About 54 million of all frequent snorers may have a sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea.

 While waking up more tired than you did when you went to bed is annoying and can affect your day, is it something that you should get checked out? Yes! says Ginger Rome, DDS at The Dentists at North Cypress in Houston, Texas. In this blog, Dr. Rome unpacks what sleep apnea is and how untreated sleep apnea may have life-threatening consequences.

Sleep apnea explained

The word “apnea” comes from the Greek word for breathless, which is on point for describing this medical condition that leads to brief moments of breathing stoppages. All members of the general population, regardless of age and gender, can develop sleep apnea. There are three types of sleep apnea – obstructive sleep apnea or OSA, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea.

 The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea or OSA. OSA results from partial or complete blockages to the upper airway. In contrast, central sleep apnea is rare, occurring when the brain fails to send nerve signals to the chest muscles to breathe. Complex sleep apnea is a variation of OSA and central sleep apnea, which can sometimes develop when a patient gets treatment for OSA.

Connected to hypertension and heart issues

What makes sleep apnea so dangerous? It all comes down to chemical imbalances during breathing interruptions. Specifically, when you stop breathing during a sleep apnea episode, it triggers a sudden drop in your body’s oxygen level. As a reaction to this dip in blood oxygen, the body releases the stress hormone known as adrenaline.

If left untreated, these surges in adrenaline, coupled with the drop in blood oxygen, put stress on the cardiovascular system and can contribute to causing high blood pressure. The continuation of sleep apnea episodes and repeated surges in blood pressure can cause damage to the inside lining of blood vessels as well as boost levels of harmful LDL cholesterol.

This scenario sets up a perfect storm for blocked arteries and poor heart muscle function, which can ultimately lead to heart attack and stroke. According to the American Thoracic Society, about 70% of people admitted to the hospital with coronary artery disease were later diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. Remarkably, people suffering from untreated sleep apnea are twice as likely to have a heart attack than the general population.

Higher risk for diabetes and obesity

But that’s not where the story ends. While your blood oxygen levels drop during sleep apnea episodes, the level of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream rises, interfering with your body’s metabolism, which regulates blood glucose.

 Specifically, sleep apnea may result in insulin resistance, which prevents your body from properly using insulin. Insulin resistance not only puts you at a higher risk of developing diabetes but also makes it harder for you to maintain a healthy weight. If you are already overweight or have diabetes, untreated sleep apnea may make it much more difficult to gain control over both issues.

 Custom oral appliances can treat sleep apnea

The good news is sleep apnea is treatable. If you already went down the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device route and couldn’t tolerate treatment, there’s a treatment option you need to check out – custom-made oral appliances.

 Here at The Dentists at North Cypress, our highly skilled team creates custom-made oral appliances to help our patients get a good night’s sleep and break free from the health consequences of sleep apnea.

A custom-made oral device gently shifts your jaw forward, thereby preventing obstructions to breathing by opening your airways. Because this device is tailor-made for each patient, it has distinct fit and comfort advantages over the typical CPAP machine.

 If your dentist deems you to be a good candidate for an oral appliance, she makes an impression of your teeth, and then by using an in-office tool called a pharyngometer or rhinometer, she measures the size and flexibility of your airways. 

Next, she sends this data to a dental laboratory, which fabricates your dental oral appliance. When your custom-made appliance returns from the lab, you return to the dentist’s office for a fitting and treatment plan.

 If you snore or suffer from sleepless nights and want to learn if an oral appliance is right for you, contact The Dentists at North Cypress in Houston, Texas. Make your appointment by calling or scheduling an appointment online today.