Sleep apnea affects around 18 million Americans, and an estimated 80% of those people haven’t even been diagnosed. That means that sleep apnea is slowly killing millions of people — and they don’t even know it. Increased risk of stroke, diabetes, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, and heart disease means that sleep apnea effectively triples your risk of dying young.
Of course, treatment for sleep apnea can mitigate those risks, but even for those who are properly diagnosed and seek treatment, sleep apnea treatment isn’t always a pleasant experience.
Sleep Apnea Treatments Aren’t Perfect
The most common first treatment doctors prescribe for sleep apnea is something called a CPAP device. CPAP stands for “continuous positive airway pressure.” The device is connected to a mask with a tube, and the sleep apnea sufferer wears the mask while they sleep.
While CPAP has been proven effective treatment for sleep apnea, it certainly isn’t ideal. Many find sleeping with the device on difficult, and it can lead to dry nose and throat, congestion, and facial irritation, and even an increase in nightmares. In fact, if you are a light sleeper, claustrophobic, or particularly bothered by any of the side effects, CPAP can actually make sleeping harder.
That’s why scientists continue to search for the perfect solution to sleep apnea. And recently, new research has uncovered a promising potential new drug treatment.
African Yohimbe Tree May Provide Answers
If you’ve heard the word yohimbine before, it’s probably in the context of an aphrodisiac or a performance enhancer. This chemical, found in the bark of the African Yohimbe tree, has been marketed as a supplement for bodybuilders to increase energy and promote weight loss, and even as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. But recent experiments on rats have shown that the chemical has another use: reactivating the nerve impulses to the tongue.
When someone suffers from obstructive sleep apnea, the soft tissues in their throat block the airway, preventing breathing. Researchers were able to simulate sleep apnea in rats, causing their tongues to relax and block the airway, just like what happens in humans suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. When the rats were then injected with yohimbine, the nerve cells that keep the tongue from relaxing were reactivated, preventing the airway obstruction.
Of course, a drug used in trials on rats is a long way from being available at your local drug store. Researchers will have to perform further testing, develop a drug, perform clinical trials, and receive FDA approval before sleep apnea sufferers can try it out.
But for people with sleep apnea looking for a CPAP alternative, you don’t have to wait for yohimbine: Your dentist can provide an oral appliance, like a mouthguard, that holds your jaw in the proper position while you sleep. This will prevent your airway from being obstructed, giving you all the benefits of CPAP without the discomfort.
If you’re looking for an experienced sleep dentist in San Diego, call (619) 299-5925 or contact us online to make an appointment.