Do I Have Sleep Apnea? Common Warning Signs to Look for By Jeffrey S. Kearney DDS on June 26, 2023

Man sleeping in bed

If you’re a heavy snorer, you’ve probably asked, “Do I have sleep apnea?” The condition is actually much more complicated than that.

The team at my Cary, NC, dental practice is experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea. I want to go over some of the basics of the condition so you know what symptoms to look for, why you should get treatment for sleep apnea, and what steps you can take if you believe that you have undiagnosed sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea Explained: It’s More Than Just Snoring

Many people believe that sleep apnea is just a bad case of heavy snoring. This is a common misconception.

While loud snoring is a common sign of the condition, sleep apnea is far more serious.

Reduced Oxygen Intake and Lack of Oxygen Intake

Sleep apnea refers to an interruption in your breathing while you are asleep. The interruptions typically last 10 seconds or longer. A person’s breathing may stop and start multiple times during an hour throughout the night, which affects the ability to get a good night’s rest.

Reduced periods of oxygen intake during sleep are known as hypopneas. A total lack of breathing during sleep is known as an apnea.

How Many People Have Sleep Apnea?

According to estimates from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), approximately 26% of adults ages 30-70 experience sleep apnea.

Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The warning signs most frequently associated with sleep apnea include:

  • Loud or Heavy Snoring - Even though sleep apnea is more than just a snore, bad bouts of snoring are one of the most common symptoms of the condition.
  • Headaches Upon Waking - Breathing disorders make restful sleep difficult. It’s common for people with sleep apnea to experience headaches when they wake up.
  • Dry Mouth Upon Waking - Snoring and mouth breathing will dry out the mouth, particularly if a person’s mouth is open throughout much of the night.
  • Daytime Sleepiness - Without a full night’s rest, you’re bound to feel drowsy during your waking hours. This fatigue may last well into the afternoon and evening.
  • Irritability and Moodiness - Besides feeling physically tired, a lack of good sleep will affect your mood. You may feel frustrated, agitated, or even downtrodden.
  • Inability to Focus - A lack of sleep will cause problems with concentration. You might find it hard to complete tasks at work or experience lapses in your memory.

Illustration of obstructive sleep apnea

Types of Sleep Apnea and Their Causes

Now that I've identified the common warning signs of sleep apnea, it’s worth considering the different kinds of sleep apnea and their unique causes.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a blockage in the upper airway. This is usually due to the relaxation of your muscles during sleep, causing the soft palate, uvula, tonsils, or tongue to narrow or completely block the airway.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea. It’s estimated that 30 million Americans have obstructive sleep apnea.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

Central sleep apnea occurs when a person’s brain is unable to control the muscles responsible for breathing. The airway itself is unaffected and not narrowed or blocked. Common causes include Cheyne-Stokes breathing (an irregular breathing pattern associated with stroke and heart failure), advanced kidney disease, and the use of opioids.

Central sleep apnea is much rarer than obstructive sleep apnea. It’s estimated that CSA affects 0.9% of Americans over 40 years old.

Complex Sleep Apnea (CompSA)

Complex sleep apnea refers to a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea. This means that the upper airway is blocked in some fashion and the brain is unable to send proper signals to respiratory muscles. The causes can be varied.

Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea

There are certain health conditions that increase someone’s risk of experiencing sleep apnea. These risk factors include:

  • Excessive weight/obesity
  • Wider neck circumference
  • Being male
  • Advanced age
  • Family history of sleep apnea
  • History of nasal congestion
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Use of sedatives
  • Smoking
  • Asthma and lung disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Heart disease
  • Previous stroke

In addition to the above, there has been some research into the potential links between obstructive sleep apnea and TMJ. If you’re unfamiliar, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is a dysfunction of the jaw joint.

Since I have special training and expertise in sleep breathing disorders and craniofacial pain, TMD is something I can look for when patients visit my practice here in Cary, NC.

What Happens if I Don’t Get Treatment for Sleep Apnea?

Many people have undiagnosed sleep apnea and go through life experiencing the long-term effects of poor sleep. The most common consequences of untreated sleep apnea include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Increased risk of diabetes
  • Heart arrhythmias

All of these risk factors impact a person’s quality of life, affect overall physical and mental health, and may increase the risk of premature death.

Health risks like these are why misconceptions about sleep apnea need to be cleared up and proper diagnosis and treatment needs to be sought out.

Jeffrey S. Kearney, DDS, FAACP, FICOI in Cary, NC

What Sleep Apnea Treatments Are Available?

There are a wide variety of sleep apnea treatments available.

Oral Appliances and CPAP

In terms of non-invasive procedures, I may be able to unblock the upper airway with the use of a simple oral appliance that shifts the position of the jaw. There’s also the CPAP machine, a tried and tested method of keeping the upper airway open during sleep.

Lifestyle Changes

In addition to these modes of treatment, I can also recommend some lifestyle changes that can address the risk factors associated with sleep apnea. This could include recommendations for increased physical activity, dietary and nutrition suggestions, and advice on reducing alcohol consumption or the use of tobacco products.

The First Step: Undergoing a Sleep Study

Before treatment can begin, your first step is a sleep study.

While I can begin a preliminary screening for sleep apnea, North Carolina law requires that the official diagnosis comes from a sleep specialist. I’ve worked with sleep doctors in and around Cary and can help connect you with a physician who can conduct your sleep study.

Why Choose My Practice for Sleep Apnea Care?

If you’re looking for sleep apnea care or believe you may be suffering from a sleep breathing disorder, my practice in Cary can help. I have a strong background in addressing sleep apnea and can also identify potential connections to TMJ disorders and other oral health conditions that may contribute to blocked upper airways.

When oral health problems are a contributing factor to sleep apnea, I can recommend restorative and rehabilitative dentistry procedures or general dental care as a supplement to traditional sleep apnea treatment.

Need to Talk to an Expert? Contact Our Practice in Cary, NC

Let’s start your journey back to a good night’s rest. To set up a consultation to discuss your sleep apnea symptoms, contact my dental practice in Cary, NC. My team looks forward to your visit.



Jeffrey S. Kearney, DDS

About Jeffrey S. Kearney, DDS
A dentist since 1992, Dr. Jeffrey Kearney has extensive training in TMJ and sleep-breathing disorders. He is a member of the Academy of General Dentistry and a fellow of the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain and the International Congress of Oral Implantologists.

Read Dr. Kearney's Full Bio | All Posts by Jeffrey Kearney

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Dr. Jeffrey Kearney

Jeffrey S. Kearney, DDS

Dr. Kearney specializes in comfortable, comprehensive dental services at his modern and inviting family practice in Cary, NC. He is trained to surgically place and restore dental implants and also offers the latest treatments to treat TMJ issues, sleep apnea, and orthodontic problems. Prestigious affiliations include:

  • American Academy of Craniofacial Pain
  • International Congress of Oral Implantologists
  • Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies
  • Academy of General Dentistry

Whether you are new to the Cary, NC, area or are a lifelong resident looking for a caring, highly trained dental professional, our team would love to meet you. Contact us online or call (919) 859-4778 to request an appointment.

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