According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, “It is estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea but 80 percent go undiagnosed." In many cases, sleep apnea dentists are the first professionals to identify less evident symptoms not just by an oral examination but by having a simple discussion with their patients.
Through conversation, sleep apnea dentists are more likely to hear their patients, or the spouse of their patients, complain about the volume of snoring they endure every night. Snoring is the most noticeable symptom for having sleep apnea other than being exhausted throughout the day. Although snoring can be a red flag for some, for others snoring isn’t a symptom that they are having at all and they may be having other symptoms that are silent and not as loud or noticeable as snoring.
Sleep and emotional health are deeply related. A silent symptom that may be overlooked is mood swings and being emotionally unstable (stressed, anxious, and depressed). “If you’re sleep deprived, you’re more vulnerable to crankiness, irritability, and challenges coping with stress,” says Lauren Hale, associate professor of preventive medicine in public health at Stonybrook University and editor-in-chief of the journal Sleep Health. Mood swings and stress are sometimes caused by the unforeseen events of life like, being laid off from a job, a hurricane destroying a home, or a train schedule being delayed. One may be quick to blame their emotional instability on life if they are not knowledgeable on the silent symptoms of OSA. Hale also states that, “sleep and stress can also create a nasty cycle: anxiety makes it harder to fall asleep, and then lack of sleep makes us more sensitive to the pressures of everyday life”.
Another silent symptom of OSA is impaired judgment. Making efficient decisions may be hard to do if the brain is unable to process thoughts and emotions. According to Harvard Medical School sleep researcher William Killgore, “when people are sleep deprived the region of the brain involved with emotional processing, the prefrontal cortex basically goes to sleep”. Just like every other part and organ in our body the brain needs to rest. Untreated OSA can cause a foggy memory, thoughtless decision-making and a lack of self-control.
A sleep apnea dentist may suspect a patient is suffering from OSA if the patient complains about waking up with a headache or a sore throat. A night with OSA can cause frequent pauses in breathing that cause the oxygen levels to stay low and cause pain (Headache). The struggle for each breath can cause the patient to sleep with their mouth wide open, causing the patient to wake up with a dry, sore throat in addition to the headache. These two silent symptoms should not be taken lightly especially if a patient is consistently suffering from the two.
Having a silent stroke with symptoms may be at the top of the list when it comes to sleep apnea and its sneaky symptoms. Studies have identified obstructive sleep apnea as a risk factor for stroke with symptoms. Experts say, “Most people do not realize they’ve had one until they have an unrelated MRI or CT scan. The scans reveal chronic micro-vascular changes in areas of the brain that can build up over time and cause neurological problems”.
So, remember; snoring, mood swings, impaired judgement, sore throat or continuously waking up with a headache can be sneaky signs of sleep apnea. If you are experiencing any of the silent symptoms of sleep apnea above, you may want to schedule an appointment to have a sleep study done. The sleep study can help determine whether the silent symptoms you are having are stemming from OSA.