Team photograph of Dr Axelrad & staff

Headaches and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Posted on by Dr. Axelrad

How often do people get a headache?

It’s one of the most common pain syndromes today.

There are different types of headaches that individuals suffer from I.e., Blood vessel headaches, contraction (tension) headaches and neuralgias as well.

The time of day that you get a headache is of great significance too!

There are two types of headaches which are associated with sleep apnea. These are Morning headaches and Cluster headaches.
1. Morning headaches: those in which you wake up with a headache.
2. Cluster headaches: those in which you wake up after a few hours of falling asleep with a headache.

Description of Headaches
Morning Headache: These are of short duration.

They occur more frequently and with greater severity as the severity of the Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is increased.

The areas affected are mainly in the ‘frontal’ area of the brain directly over the frontal sinus.

The pain may irradiate behind the eyes and also be constant in nature.

Cluster Headache: These occur in clusters (as the name implies) and can last weeks to months.

There are usually episodes of headaches and between the episodes, the patient is pain free.

Fifty to sixty percent of cluster headaches occur mainly at night. Those who are affected wake up within two hours of falling asleep. There is an increase in the prevalence of sleep apnea in patients with cluster headaches.

The Cause of the Headache
The cause of most headaches is due to alterations in the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood.

If ventilation is poor during sleep, this may result in night time and early morning headaches.

During episodes of sleep apnea, you are not breathing properly. There is a buildup of carbon dioxide; CO2 acts as a vasodilator.

Vasodilation of blood vessels results in a vascular headache. The blood vessels enlarge and this results in the pain…Continuous Air Pressure (CPAP) or Mandibular Advancement Devices (MAD’S) can prevent this by maintaining an open airway and avoiding a buildup of CO2.

It is thought that oxygen desaturation (and CO2 buildup) may be the cause for cluster and morning headaches. The reasoning for this is:
1. When oxygen is administered, this stops the painful headache.
2. When oxygen is withheld and an oxygen desaturation ensues, this easily provokes an attack.

Conclusion
If you get headaches as described above, then it may be a good idea to get checked to see if you suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea…speak to your dentist or your family doctor today….they may be able to help you.

Yours in good health,

Dr. Robert Axelrad, Brampton Dentist

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