What Are the Treatments for Sleep Apnea?
Do you get out of bed feeling tired even though you’ve been asleep for seven or eight hours? Do you suddenly wake up unable to catch your breath? Has your spouse or partner complained that you snore loudly or said you sometimes stop breathing for a few seconds when you’re asleep? If so, you could have a potentially serious but treatable condition called sleep apnea.
If you suspect you might have sleep apnea, it’s important to seek help from your doctor. People with untreated sleep apnea run a higher risk of falling asleep while driving and of suffering from a heart attack, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, or stroke.
There are three types of sleep apnea: central, obstructive, and complex. Central sleep apnea is rare and is usually a symptom of heart disease or stroke. Basically, your brain doesn’t send your breathing muscles the signals they need to keep inhaling and exhaling in a regular rhythm.
Obstructive apnea is the most common and occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax to such an extent that they partially or completely block your airway. If you have complex, or mixed, apnea, you suffer from both airway blockage and interruptions in brain signals.
Unfortunately, treating sleep apnea isn’t as simple as taking a pill. Still, there are several treatment options available. Once your doctor knows the cause and severity of your apnea, she’ll be able to recommend the best course of action to relieve your symptoms.
Underlying cause: If your sleep apnea is caused by a heart or neuromuscular disorder, such as congestive heart failure, treating that condition may reduce or eliminate your symptoms.
Lifestyle: Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol are all lifestyle habits that increase sleep apnea symptoms. Loosing as little as 10 percent of your excess body weight can lessen the amount of times your sleep apnea causes you to stop breathing.
Avoid alcohol or sedative drugs. These relax your throat muscles, increasing the likelihood that your airway will become blocked while you sleep. Smoking constricts airways, veins, arteries, and just about every other part of your body responsible for circulation and respiration. Sleep apnea suffers who stop smoking usually see a reduction in their breathing difficulties.
CPAP: Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. This treatment requires you wear a mask over your nose and mouth while you sleep. The mask is attached to a small machine that blows air into your nose and throat. The amount of air is just enough to keep your airway open; it shouldn’t keep you awake. Still, some people find the mask awkward and uncomfortable.
There are several different CPAP masks. If the mask you’re using is uncomfortable. Tell your doctor so you can try another type.
BiPAP: Similar to CPAP machines, Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) devices utilize a mask to deliver air through your nose and mouth. While CPAP machines release a continuous level of air pressure, BiPAP devices blow more air when you inhale and less when you exhale. You may find this customized amount of pressure is more comfortable.
Dental appliances: Although air pressure therapy is a more effective sleep apnea treatment, you may find you just can’t sleep comfortably with a mask on your face. If so, you may want to consider wearing a mouthpiece. Your dentist or orthodontist can provide you with a dental appliance that will keep your upper throat open by repositioning your tongue and pushing your jaw forward while you sleep.
A dental appliance requires a custom fit to work properly. Once your mouthpiece is made, you’ll have to keep twice-yearly follow-up visits with your dentist to make sure the appliance still fits correctly.
Surgery: If your sleep apnea is severe and/or life threatening, you may need to undergo surgery to shrink or remove the extra tissue in the back of your throat that is blocking your airway. However, if there’s still obstructive tissue further down your throat, this type of surgery won’t cure your apnea.
Another possible procedure involves moving your lower jaw bone forward so there’s more room for air to move through the back of your mouth.
Trachestomy is a surgical treatment of last resort. During a trachestomy, a surgeon will cut a hole in the front of your neck and insert a metal or plastic tube through the opening. While you sleep, you’ll be able to breathe through the tube, bypassing the blockage in your throat. You’ll keep the tube covered when you’re awake.