How to Treat Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea – also known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) – occurs when you repeatedly stop breathing for short spells while asleep. The resulting temporary lack of oxygen to the brain and other parts of the body prompts spluttering and gasping that wakes you up.
Besides leaving you tired when you get up, and throughout the rest of the day, sleep apnea can cause several complications. These issues include:
• Mental health disorders.
• Weakened immune system.
• Memory loss.
• Increased risk of heart failure.
Breathing apparatus and/or oral appliances are often used to treat sleep apnea, while lifestyle changes may also help to ease the problem.
Airway Pressure Machines to Treat Sleep Apnea
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines improve sleep breathing by raising air pressure in the throat to prevent your airway from collapsing when you draw breath.
The device has a small tank of water with a filter, which acts as a humidifier. A tube connects the machine to a mask on your face while you sleep, held in place with a chin strap.
According to the National Sleep Foundation1, CPAP is the most effective nonsurgical treatment for sleep apnea. Over time, it can reduce daytime tiredness and lower blood pressure.
However, there are downsides to CPAP therapy. It can cause:
• A sore throat.
• Dry nose.
• Nasal congestion.
• Belly bloating,
• Eye irritation.
It can also take time to adjust to sleeping with a mask over your face, particularly if you have claustrophobic tendencies.
Oral Appliance Therapy to Treat Sleep Apnea
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine2 (AASM) recommends oral appliance therapy (OAT) for patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea. It also endorses the use of oral appliances in cases of severe sleep apnea when patients can’t tolerate a CPAP machine.
A further option for people with severe sleep apnea is a combination of continuous positive airway pressure treatment and an oral appliance that can make CPAP treatment more comfortable.
Advantages of oral appliance therapy for sleep apnea include:
• Effective, non-invasive treatment.
• Comfort and quiet.
• Ease of use.
• Ease of maintenance.
• Portability – convenient for travel.
• Avoiding drugs or surgery.
• Usually more affordable than CPAP machines.
Oral appliances such as mandibular advancement devices (MADs) can be custom-made by a dentist specializing in sleep apnea treatment3. They keep your airway open as you sleep by moving your lower jaw forward. They also prevent your tongue from folding back and blocking your airway.
Lifestyle Changes to Ease Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that needs to be assessed and treated by medical professionals like dentists or doctors.
Lifestyle changes may be useful in easing the symptoms of sleep apnea, but always bear in mind they’re not a substitute for treatment by a qualified healthcare professional.
However, some measures you can take yourself may prove beneficial alongside professional treatment for sleep apnea.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Doctors often advise people with sleep apnea to lose weight. Obesity can increase the risk of developing narrow nasal passages, leading to airway obstruction. Studies have shown that moderate weight loss by people with sleep apnea in cases of obesity may avoid the need for upper airway surgery.
Getting Regular Exercise
As well as helping in weight control, regular physical activity may alleviate sleep apnea by increasing oxygen saturation in your blood, while boosting your energy levels and strengthening your heart.
Changing Your Sleep Position
Altering your sleep position can alleviate sleep apnea symptoms and help you get a better night’s rest. Sleeping on your back can block your airways. Sleeping on your side may help your breathing return to normal and reduce snoring. While this is true for adults, children with sleep apnea have been found to sleep better on their backs.
Using a Humidifier
Dry air can irritate your respiratory system. A humidifier in your bedroom will add moisture to the air and can help to open your airways and reduce congestion. Some people find it helpful to add soothing essential oils like eucalyptus or lavender to their humidifier.
Limiting Alcohol Consumption and Quitting Smoking
If you smoke, kicking the habit will reduce the risk of swelling and inflammation of your airways, which can aggravate snoring and sleep apnea. In fact, smoking may have played a part in you developing sleep apnea in the first place. Alcohol can result in obstructed airflow because it relaxes the throat muscles that regulate your breathing.
Surgical Options to Treat Sleep Apnea
Surgery is generally used to treat apnea only when other treatments have proved ineffective. However, in cases of certain jaw structure issues, it may be a good first option.
Types of surgery for sleep apnea include:
• Removal of tissue from the top of the throat and back of the mouth, including adenoids and tonsils. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends removal of adenoids and tonsils as the first line of treatment for children with breathing issues during sleep.
• Shrinking tissue at the back of the mouth and throat with radio frequency energy.
• Moving the jaw forward to create more space behind the tongue and soft palate (the fleshy rear part of the roof of the mouth).
• Plastic rod implants into the soft palate.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
At least one in ten people in the U.S. is believed to have sleep apnea, which is more common among males.
You may be unaware you have the condition. Many people don’t realize they pause breathing while asleep and believe their sleep cycle is normal. It’s often down to a partner or other family member to determine you may have a problem.
Signs of sleep apnea that someone else may notice as you sleep include:
• Loud snoring.
• Tossing and turning.
Symptoms of sleep apnea you may notice yourself include:
• Constant fatigue.
• Poor memory.
How is Sleep apnea Diagnosed?
Diagnosing sleep apnea entails multiple tests to assess:
• Constant fatigue.
• Poor memory.
These evaluations can take place in a sleep center lab, at a hospital, or at home if the condition appears seems less complex.