The American Academy of Sleep Medicine labels sleep apnea as, “A hidden health crisis costing America billions.” Sleep apnea is a serious health condition where you actually stop breathing during sleep. These episodes can last for a few seconds or up to a minute or more. And the number of times this occurs can range from very few to more than 50 times in one night’s sleep.
An estimated 30 million adult Americans have undiagnosed sleep apnea. Many with untreated sleep apnea complain of daytime tiredness. However, left untreated, the consequences of sleep apnea are much more serious than tiredness. High blood pressure, cardiac disease and diabetes are the most prevalent health risks. Other conditions associated with untreated sleep apnea are stroke, asthma and other breathing disorders, insomnia, impotence, weight gain, depression, anxiety, and possible complications in pregnancy.
Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is often left undiagnosed for several reasons. Doctors don’t routinely screen for sleep apnea, and patients often attribute daytime sleepiness to stress or not getting enough sleep. Doctors and dentists should routinely screen their patients. A simple questionnaire is all that is needed to find out if a patient has sleep apnea. Snoring is also a common sign of sleep apnea. The next step in diagnosis is a home sleep test or visit to a sleep lab.
Treating Sleep Apnea
Once a diagnosis is made, the treatment depends on the severity of the condition. When someone has mild to moderate sleep apnea, the treatment options include: an oral device that positions the lower jaw forward during sleep to prevent the airway from being obstructed, surgery of the palate/throat, or a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. When someone is diagnosed with severe sleep apnea the treatment options are either CPAP or surgery.
Consequences of Sleep Apnea
One can see from the potential health problems how sleep apnea could cost billions in health care dollars. Low productivity at work, and potential work or driving accidents also contribute to the cost of this serious health condition.
Sleep apnea awareness has increased somewhat in recent months. There have been several incidents where train operators have fallen asleep and caused accidents. These operators were found to have sleep apnea after the fact. The New York City MTA has decided to have all employees screened for sleep apnea. The trucking industry, as well as airlines and other shipping and train corporations, should be doing the same.
All businesses would benefit if their employees did not suffer from sleep apnea; more productivity, less sick days, and healthier, happier employees.
Sleep apnea is a serious health condition that is often not diagnosed. Please ask your doctor or dentist about getting screened. The benefits of treatment can literally add years to your life.
Dr. Robert C. Rawdin, DDS
Diplomate, American Board of Prosthodontics
NY Smile Specialists at Gallery 57 Dental
24 W 57th St., suite 701
New York, NY 10019