Untreated sleep apnea could cut 10 to 20 years off your life, experts say

Do you snore? We all know someone who does. While it's the brunt of jokes at family gatherings, doctors say it can be a very serious issue.

SAN ANTONIO - Do you snore? We all know someone who does. While it’s the brunt of jokes at family gatherings, doctors say it can be a very serious issue.

KENS 5 spoke with an expert about the health hazards of the noisy condition, and what you can do to stop it.

"Somehow, we've gotta get over this mentality that people have that, 'Eh, it's not that big a deal,’" said Dr. Richard Drake of Dental Sleep Solutions of San Antonio.

At least half a million people in San Antonio have sleep apnea, causing us to snore and gasp for air while we sleep.

"What happens when people fall asleep is your brain has to choose oxygen or sleep. If you're alive today, it chose oxygen last night."

Dr. Drake is the only local board certified dentist at Dental Sleep Medicine.

His office uses custom dental devices to reposition your jaw and open your upper airways so you can get more oxygen while you sleep.

"We open the jaw and we move your jaw forward a little bit," Dr. Drake explained. "When we do that, we're getting your tongue and your pallet off the back of your throat so you won't make that [snoring] noise."

"I would tend to wake up at night," said Farrell Sutton, who has sleep apnea. "I'd wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning with a rapid heartbeat or a need to breathe."

Sutton tried a few options, like a mask called a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure), to stop the snoring.

"At first we tried a mask and the mask irritated my face because I wasn't getting a very good sleep," said Sutton, who then discovered a custom oral device to help him sleep.

The device has an imprint of his own teeth and is built using scanning technology and a 3-D printer.

"I do not snore, I do not wake up at night for sleep apnea [anymore]," Sutton said. "It solved my problem."

But Sutton is not part of the majority. Of the 500,000 people with sleep apnea in San Antonio, 90 percent are undiagnosed.

“That is the big crisis here," Dr. Drake said. "If I have sleep apnea and it's undiagnosed and I don't treat it, studies show it can take 10 to 20 years off my life. This is a big deal!"

If you have symptoms like fatigue, high blood pressure, memory issues, acid reflux, if you're pre-diabetic and if you find it hard to lose weight, you could have sleep apnea. The more symptoms, the more likely you are to have the sleep disorder.

A sleep test is the best way to diagnose sleep apnea.

"The sleep test, a lot of times, is the first step toward somebody being healthier," Dr. Drake noted. "Even people who snore and don't have sleep apnea that we know from a sleep study, we're starting to see changes in the lining of the epithelial cells of the heart. They are under stress."

Consult your physician if you think you need a sleep test. Dr. Drake says that you can take a sleep test in a lab or at home.

"What's coming down the pipe here is they're going to mandate sleep testing for people who have commercial driver’s licenses," Dr. Drake said. "They're going to mandate you treat that disease."

Remember, just because you snore, it doesn't automatically mean you have sleep apnea.

To treat snoring and sleep apnea, experts don't recommend over-the-counter or online dental devices.

"The problem with over-the-counter dental devices is they're one size fits none," Dr. Drake explained. "The over-the-counter dental devices, typically what we hear is, 'Oh, my husband got one of those. If it stays in, it works pretty good, but half the time I look over there and it's stuck on his top teeth, and his bottom teeth are falling out.’"

On top of custom dental devices, surgical options to treat sleep apnea are also available.

For more information on Dental Sleep Solutions of San Antonio, visit their official website here.

© 2017 KENS-TV


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