Sleep apnea is a common condition in which a person’s breathing stops and restarts several times as they sleep.
The condition can result in a range of health problems if not treated and managed properly, according to three specialists with BayCare Clinic and Aurora BayCare Medical Center. The specialists – Dr. Robert Sonnenburg, BayCare Clinic Ear, Nose & Throat; Steve Zent, Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons BayCare Clinic; and Prabhpreet Singh, Aurora BayCare Cardiology – discussed the condition, causes, symptoms and treatment options during a livestreamed Facebook event.
“People who have untreated sleep apnea, it’s harder for them to focus, concentrate, pay attention to tasks, so it may affect their work performance,” Sonnenburg says. He treats sleep apnea patients from a sleep medicine perspective.
Untreated sleep apnea also may lead to severe unrest, daytime drowsiness, mood swings, depression and other health concerns, Zent says. He treats sleep apnea patients from an oral and maxillofacial perspective.
“Sleep apnea is typically multifactorial … and the patient may need to utilize any one or multiple treatment options,” Zent says, stressing the importance of creating individualized treatment options for his sleep apnea patients.
Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to devastating effects on heart and brain health and have lasting effects on quality of life, Singh adds. It is not uncommon for him to identify sleep apnea as a key cause behind a patient’s heart ailments.
“Sleep apnea can directly lead to high blood pressure,” Singh says. If untreated, “high blood pressure can affect your heart health in multiple ways. It can cause heart attack. It can cause rhythm problems. It can cause stroke … can affect your other vital organs including your kidneys, your eyesight and may even cause things like blindness and kidney failure, things we don’t really think about.”
Treatment options range from simple lifestyle changes, a CPAP machine, Inspire upper airway stimulation therapy and oral appliances to surgical solutions, Sonnenburg says.
The stigma of treating sleep apnea and its telltale snoring should be a thing of the past, Zent says.
“It’s amazing how many patients come back after they have found one of these treatment modalities and they tell me they feel great and then their only regret is they didn’t do it sooner, they didn’t address it sooner,” he says.
“It is important for patients to understand that sleep apnea is a treatable condition,” he says. “It is something that has many ways of being treated … We can explore all these options. The right approach, again, is to tackle the problem head on.”