Obstructive sleep apnea is a widespread and life-threatening sleep disorder that is often characterized by loud snoring and abrupt awakenings that find the sufferer choking or gasping for air.
Without treatment, sleep apnea can lead to chronic daytime fatigue and an increased risk for health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Another dangerous—and often neglected—side-effect of sleep apnea is depression. While sleep apnea is more common among adults, children can also develop sleep apnea, and kids and teens with sleep apnea may be especially susceptible to depression.
Youth and Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is a type of sleep apnea in which an airway obstruction causes repeat breathing stoppages during sleep. About 3 percent of children are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, but according to a Fox News report that number is likely much higher as sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed in children and adults alike.
As with adults, a child’s risk for sleep apnea is heightened if he or she is overweight, suffers from asthma, has a narrow airway or enlarged adenoids, experiences chronic nasal congestion, or has a family history of sleep apnea. Children who snore regularly should also be monitored for other symptoms of sleep apnea.
Routine snoring can be a sign of an airway obstruction. An early study of obstructive sleep apnea in children found that approximately 10 percent of kids snore regularly for their first 10 years of life. Snoring generally subsides as children’s bodies develop, but the Fox report cites additional research that suggests nearly 20 percent of children who snore may have obstructive sleep apnea.
Depression and Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea’s recurring breathing interruptions prevent healthy, restful sleep. They also cause dramatic drops in blood-oxygen levels.
This rollercoaster progressively affects the hormones that control mood. Over time, the cumulative effects include daytime fatigue, mood swings, an inability to focus, feelings of anxiety, and depression. Compounded in children, these side-effects can adversely impact school performance and even lead to thoughts of suicide.
However, as the Fox report notes, treating sleep apnea can also diminish many of its complications.
Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea
A 2015 review of existing sleep apnea research found that treatment can successfully reduce depression.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices remain the most commonly prescribed treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. CPAP maintains a nonstop airflow during sleep through a mask that is connected to an oxygen circulator. That said, many people find the masks uncomfortable or claustrophobic and discontinue CPAP therapy before it can work.
Another effective, and increasingly popular, option is the use of an oral appliance. These devices fit similarly to sports mouthguards, but they are custom made to hold the jaw in an optimal position that allows an open air passage while you sleep.
Sleep apnea treatment in conjunction with positive lifestyle changes like improved diet, weight loss, and increased exercise can further curb depression and other negative effects of sleep apnea.
Austin neuromuscular dentist Dr. Dan Matthews has extensive success helping patients treat sleep apnea and restore healthy sleep with oral appliances. If you or a loved one suffers from regular snoring or other sleep apnea symptoms, please call our Bee Cave Road office today at 512-452-2273 to schedule your consultation.