Health Watch: What may be stealing your sleep and your health

Sleep apnea is a growing problem in the panhandle. In this week's "Health Watch" NewsChannel 10's Michelle Langowski looks into what may be behind the increase in sufferers and what treatment options are now available.

Sleep apnea is doing more than just leaving you feeling sluggish during the day, it is actually shortening your life. If you spend your nights snoring and waking up abruptly, you are not alone. More than 10 million Americans suffer from obstructive sleep apnea - meaning their airway becomes blocked while they sleep.

Most just dismiss it as snoring, but it can be serious and lead to long-term health problems.
Area dentist Dr. Clinton Elser explains"what that means is there is no longer any air going into their lungs. The oxygen in the blood is decreasing and their vital organs and their brain are no longer getting the oxygen they need. If you have it or suspect that it's going on, it's really important to get treatment. Sleep apnea untreated shortens life spans by 20%"

For those with mild to moderate sleep apnea, Dr. Esler says a trip to the dentist may be the answer. Patients will be fitted for an oral appliance that will help them breathe through the night. "What it does is hold the lower jaw forward and more open, therefore relaxing the muscles in the airway and pulling the tongue out of the way and keeping the airway open. So that as you breathe throughout the night, plenty of oxygen is going through."

All of Doctor Esler's patients are screened for the disorder. He takes time to look at their airway to be sure it's open. He says he's surprised by the number of patients in our area who are deprived of a good night's sleep due to sleep apnea.

"As America has gained weight, obesity has gotten to be a bigger problem and our airways are getting closed off. A your neck is getting thicker on the outside, it's getting thicker on the inside too. So it's easier to close off that airway."

Dr. Esler also says 80% of those who suffer from sleep apnea also have TMJ which causes severe jaw pain.