What Causes Sleep Apnea in Adults and Children?

When an adult gets sleep apnea, there is most often a single cause – being overweight. The extra weight also enlarges the tissue in the throat, and not just around the middle. When the person sleeps, the muscles of the tongue and throat are more relaxed, and the tissues can collapse into the airway – blocking it. 

The problem is considered to be obstructive sleep apnea when breathing stops for 10 seconds or more repeatedly. The person will often wake up gasping for air or snorting to start breathing again, but usually, it will be so brief that he or she will not remember it. 

Other sleep apnea causes may result in central sleep apnea. The cause is a problem with brain signals that are not regulating the breathing correctly. More men will have this problem than women, and the risk may be increased by the use of narcotic pain medicines, a stroke, and congestive heart failure. 

Breathing may stop for as little as five times in an hour, but it may occur 30 or more per hour. Because of the frequency and the constant but brief periods of waking to breathe, people with this health problem are not able to get into the deep sleep phase – which is when refreshment comes. It may also prevent going to sleep and staying asleep. 

Children can also develop sleep apnea. While children can be obese, it is rarely the cause. Instead, it is more apt to be a result of enlarged adenoids or tonsils, or it could be the result of a large overbite. Other causes may include birth defects such as may occur with Down Syndrome or the Pierre-Robin Syndrome. 

Sometimes, risk factors are partially responsible for the development of this breathing problem. These may include smoking, excessive use of alcohol, sedatives, a deviated septum, genetic, hypothyroidism, and the production of excess growth hormone. 

Don’t Ignore the Snore

If you or your bed partner regularly snores, there may be a problem. This is often a symptom of sleep apnea. The snoring takes place because the muscles in the throat are relaxing into the airway – causing the snoring. It can be very loud at times, especially when sleeping on your back. 

Although snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea, it does not mean you have it. It is only considered sleep apnea if you stop breathing for a few seconds – and do it repeatedly through the night. Each time may last between 10 to 20 seconds. This can occur hundreds of times in a single night.

Some people may not even be aware that they snore. The only way they find out is if their bedpartner tells them about it, or someone hears them snoring loudly and lets them know. 

It is easy to conclude that snoring may not be a real problem since so many people do it. If the individual does have sleep apnea, there are additional things to be concerned about. The lack of breathing causes lower amounts of oxygen to be circulating in the blood which can damage the heart, brain, and other organs over time. It has been connected with a 67 percent greater risk of a stroke. 

Being sleep deprived also causes some other undesirable problems. They can include poor performance at work or school, a lower sex drive, a lack of clarity in thinking, and there will also be social and psychological problems. 

Another problem that often occurs with sleep apnea is grinding the teeth. Again, he or she may not be aware of it if it only occurs during sleep. A dentist can quickly identify the symptoms because the teeth will likely be worn and possibly cracked. To protect the teeth, a dentist can make a special mouth guard for teeth grinding.

How Do You Find Out If Your Kid Has Sleep Apnea?

Children can also have sleep apnea. It can create problems with learning, growth, behavior, and heart problems. They can be treated for it once a sleep apnea test has been conducted and it is confirmed that apnea is the problem.

Symptoms of sleep apnea will be evident in a child, just like they would be in an adult. If a child has this breathing problem, you can expect some of the following problems:

  • Snores regularly
  • You will hear gasps, snorts, and pauses in their breathing 
  • Their sudden gasps for air, etc., may waken them
  • They may sweat heavily while they sleep
  • They will likely change positions often – and some may be abnormal
  • Sleepwalking or night terrors.

The child may also have some other symptoms along with the other ones. This may include having headaches in the morning – and possibly in the afternoon, will not wake up easily, and may be cranky and aggressive. They will likely often fall asleep in class. 

In order to test for sleep apnea in a child or an adult, it will usually require that he or she spend a night in a sleep lab or a hospital. The test will check for many functions, including eye movements, the heart rate, blood oxygen levels, snoring, brain waves, breathing patterns, and more. 

When the problem is thought to be caused by excessive weight, a doctor will usually recommend changes in the diet, regular exercise, and other ways to lose weight. If the tonsils are determined to be larger than normal, a surgeon may need to remove tonsils or the adenoids. 

If it is not believed that this will solve the problem, then a CPAP machine will likely be recommended. This machine is usually considered standard treatment, and several types of masks may be recommended.

The Dangers of Untreated Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is more than a just a problem that makes you sleepy through the day. Because of slower breathing and breathing that completely stops multiple times in a night – night after night – the lack of oxygen is going to take a toll on your organs. 

As a result of much less oxygen, there are going to be many sleep apnea side effects that will affect many parts of your body and quality of life. Parts of the heart or brain may actually start to die due to the lack of oxygen. Health problems that are often seen include the following problems:

  • Breathing trouble
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart problems
  • Acid reflux
  • Depression
  • Confusion and memory loss
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Fatigue
  • Irritable
  • Low blood oxygen levels
  • Low libido.

Another serious concern of having sleep apnea is the constant tiredness. This can easily lead to falling asleep at work, or while driving or operating machinery. It is dangerous for someone with sleep apnea to operate machinery, and it could even be fatal for them and for others.

If you have had a previous heart attack, sleep apnea could lead to a stroke, more heart attacks, or an irregular heartbeat. When your oxygen levels get low, it could also lead to sudden death. 

Problems with medications and surgery are another issue for someone with sleep disorders. Various medications can enhance the symptoms, and the risk in surgery must be considered before undergoing a medical procedure. In surgery, being heavily sedated while lying on your back could easily make the breathing problems worse.

Because of the constant tiredness, this problem is also apt to cause people to be irritable and quick-tempered. This can make it uncomfortable to be around them for long periods. Children who have this problem often have problems with behavior and may not do well in school. 

Are You Fed Up with CPAP?

Although CPAP machines are the most common method of treatment for sleep apnea, many people find problems with them. Besides being uncomfortable and easy to come off your head when you toss and turn in your sleep, some people never get used to the air pressure. It can also cause dry mouth, or make it difficult to go to sleep. 

In addition to coming off, there is also a problem because there is a hose attached to it. This can also make it uncomfortable to sleep. If not kept clean, the machine may cause you to get respiratory and sinus infections, bronchitis, and possibly even pneumonia. Having gas can be another problem. 

If you are tired of the CPAP machine, there is an alternative. A dentist can give you an oral appliance similar to a sports mouth guard. The sleep apnea mouth guard fits in your mouth and does not need to be hooked up to anything else. Each appliance is custom-fitted to maximize your comfort and breathing while you sleep. They are also easy to care for.

Another excellent feature of the dental appliance is that it is easy to take with you when you travel. Its compact size lets you take it anywhere, ensuring that you get a good night’s sleep that is also refreshing. Another advantage is that they do not make any noise, letting your bed partner be able to get a good night’s sleep, too. 

More than 100 types of these stop snoring devices have been approved by the FDA. Many insurance plans will also cover them, but you will need to have an official medical diagnosis of sleep apnea and the severity. 

Many people who get an oral appliance from a dentist find that their sleep is so much better – even on the first night. Just as important is the fact that with better sleep, you are positively moving toward better health. 

If you have signs of sleep apnea, such as snoring and constant tiredness, you can get snoring and sleep apnea treatment from Dr. Kumar T. Vadivel, DDS, MS, MBA, FDSRCS, a Board Certified Periodontist. He can enable you to stop snoring and get better sleep with dental appliances. His Tooth HQ Dental offices are located in the Carrollton, Cedar Hill, Mockingbird/SMU and Grapevine, TX areas. For a consultation or dental treatment for better dental health, you can contact his office today at 214-731-0123