When do you know it’s time to see a doctor? A new survey of 2,000 respondents from OnePoll on behalf of the Henry Schein Cares Foundation found that men especially wait until they have a seriously big problem — 2 in 3 say they don’t go until something feels “very wrong.” But it’s not just men (1). Overall 64 percent of people wait until there’s an issue, taking a more reactive approach. Even 59 percent of women wait until there’s a serious problem, the survey shows.
Their reasons are valid — some are scared of doctors, including ones who won’t listen or those they don’t trust. Others worry about the financial toll of testing for a medical issue, with just half of respondents having an emergency medical savings account ready.
But when it comes to sleep health, waiting for them to become “critical” isn’t the best route, according to Annie Miller, a Washington D.C.-based therapist trained in behavioral sleep medicine at DC Metro Therapy. “[Early intervention] is important for decreasing insomnia and making periods of poor sleep shorter. We know that sleep can be improved by working on your behaviors and thoughts around sleep. And by intervening earlier, you can prevent minor sleep issues from escalating into major disruptions.” She adds that the brain struggles to break habits it has had for longer, including sleep issues.
In particular there’s one sleep condition that you especially shouldn’t wait to address — sleep apnea. “OSA is known as a silent killer. Untreated OSA leads to a significantly increased risk of sudden cardiac death, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and traffic accidents,” says Ear Nose and Throat specialist Dr. Nishant Reddy of NJ ENT and Facial Plastic Surgery. “Reaching out to a doctor only when something is “extremely wrong” can result in a delay in diagnosis and increased treatment complexity.”
Though some people try to tough it out or see if symptoms go away, he urges people to check with their doctor if they have any of the following: loud snoring, choking or gasping while sleeping, daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, difficulty with focusing, frequent nighttime urination, loss of libido, and depression. And it’s not just about you. See your doctor for the sake of your own bed partner. “Untreated sleep conditions like OSA can also have a significant impact on a person’s bed partner. OSA can disrupt the partner’s sleep, leading to frustration and relationship strain. In some cases, this may lead to couples sleeping separately,” he says.
Additionally, insomnia shouldn’t go untreated, and Reddy says its effects can have a “drastic” impact on quality of life.”
Those with sleep apnea faced significant dangers if they wait for treatment, according to Dr. Kevin Postol with the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine.
What Are the Dangers of Waiting For Sleep Apnea Treatment?
- Have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and are unable to control their blood sugars
- Be prone to memory issues with the inability to convert short-term memory to long-term memory
- Be involved in a traffic accident
- Worsening symptoms because of heart attack or stroke
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
“As a qualified dentist, my recommendation is that if you wake up tired on most days or find yourself falling asleep doing regular activities like watching TV or driving a car, you should make an appointment with a qualified dentist to be treated for your sleep condition,” Postol says. He points to a 63-year-old woman in this scenario, who was “tired all the time.” She thought snoring was typical given her age and that she had Type 2 Diabetes.
But, she was diagnosed with sleep apnea. When a CPAP machine wasn’t well tolerated, she tried an oral appliance. Three months later her sleep apnea was under control, her snoring decreased, she was well rested. “She also lost 30 lbs because she has more energy to enjoy activities, like playing with her grandchildren. Because of her weight loss, this has decreased the amount of insulin she needs to take for her diabetes.”
Success stories like these can help people understand there can be much to be gained in getting help earlier. People with sleep conditions, especially those avoiding a doctor’s visit, might be comforted to know that plenty can be done for many of the conditions. “Patient’s are often forced to come to see their doctor at the insistence of their partner. The good news is that OSA is readily treatable with either lifestyle modifications, oral appliances, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices, or surgery. Some surgeries can be performed minimally invasively by an experienced otolaryngologist, or ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon. With adequate treatment, most patients can get significant improvement in their quality of life,” Reddy says.
“With adequate treatment, most patients can get significant improvement in their quality of life.”
1. Talker Research, “2 in 3 only see a doctor when something feels extremely wrong,” via OnePoll on behalf of the Henry Schein Cares Foundation, https://talker.news/2023/10/16/2-in-3-only-see-a-doctor-when-something-feels-extremely-wrong/
Miller, Annie. Author interview. October 2023.
Reddy, Dr. Nishant. Author interview. October 2023.
Postol, Dr. Kevin. Author interview. October 2023.