Sleep apnea is a disorder that interrupts a normal breathing pattern during sleep. Pauses that last a minimum of 10 seconds can take place. Patients who believe that they could have sleep apnea should initially confirm this condition by visiting their physician, as this condition can result in low levels of oxygen in the blood. It is important for the patient to pursue treatment as soon as possible as disruption of sleep can cause memory issues, drowsy driving, heart disease, mood issues, and hypertension.
Once diagnosed with sleep apnea, patients should undergo a sleep study, which means they may need to spend the night in a sleep center that will evaluate their level of sleep functioning. A sleep study is a recommended part of treatment as it will give physicians an in-depth glimpse of the blood oxygen levels, airflow, respiratory effort, heart rate, muscle activity, eye movement, and sleep state. Without a sleep study, it could be more difficult for a physician to prescribe effective treatment methods. Treatment can sometimes begin in the sleep center the first night the patient comes in as well.
The most recommended form of treatment for patients with obstructive sleep apnea is a CPAP machine (continuous positive airway pressure device). This machine is extremely effective and is placed over the nose (and mouth, if needed) to move air slowly into a person’s airway to ensure that it stays open while they are sleeping. It is imperative to use the machine as directed by your physician.
Most patients who try CPAP machines find that they experience instant respite and are pleased with their newfound energy and sharper thinking throughout the day. While some patients feel as if the machines have changed their lives, other patients feel as if the masks are highly uncomfortable to sleep with, despite the fact that it could be beneficial for the sleep apnea. Patients may need to request a different size of a sleeping mask that fits properly in order to have success with a CPAP machine.
CPAP machines do have side effects, but these are typically temporary and mild and include abdominal bloating, headaches, sore eyes, and nasal congestion. It may take some patients between 2-12 weeks to become accustomed to the machine. Studies have found that less than half of patients with a CPAP machine do not continue their treatment with the equipment. There has also been a proven benefit for partners of an individual with sleep apnea. While many partners cannot sleep in the same room as their partner because of the loud snoring noises, CPAP machines quiet those noises, and the partner is able to return to their room. CPAP therapy is the most recommended form of sleep apnea treatment.
Patients with sleep apnea may prefer to use a dental or oral appliance in place of a CPAP machine. These appliances inhibit the collapse of the airway during the night by either moving the jaw of the patient forward or by securing the tongue in place while the patient is sleeping. A professional who is trained in both dental and sleep medicine must fit the device to the patient. Oral therapy with an appliance is suggested for patients who have not been able to bear a CPAP machine who have intermediate cases of sleep apnea (mild to moderate).
While there are several types of surgery that can be performed to aid patients who have sleep apnea, the most commonly used kinds either remove or decrease the additional tissue within the throat that falls and obstructs the airway while sleeping. Some surgeries could be more invasive than others. Typically, when considering surgery as a treatment option, types of operation include surgery of the tongue, tonsils and adenoids, uvula and soft palate, or the lower and upper jaw.
Surgery is not the best choice for all patients, however. Certain patients may find they have received more benefit from having the surgery than others have experienced. Negative circumstances that could take place due to having surgery could include throat swelling and bleeding, pain, the patient may be placed on a restricted diet for numerous weeks, the patient may need to stay in the hospital overnight, and their jaw may be shut for a period of several days with wires. Unfortunately, many patients have found that benefits from having surgery are not as permanent as they had hoped. Some patients have reported having sleep apnea take place again, even after surgery.
In certain circumstances, weight loss can be of aid when seeking to remedy or remove signs of sleep apnea for patients who are obese or overweight. People who are overweight may have necks with additional tissue within the throat that could be inhibiting their airway. Controlling weight as a form of treatment for sleep apnea is ideal for individuals who are overweight yet able to exercise. Losing is not guaranteed to improve sleep apnea, however, it could be helpful. However, patients who have a thinner nasal airway or passage than normal are unlikely to see a change from this method of treatment.
A non-invasive method of treating sleep apnea is through positional therapy. Patients have reported that sleep apnea symptoms arise typically when they are asleep flat on their back. Patients have noted also that their breathing is normal again when they choose to situate themselves to lie on the side while sleeping. Positional therapy ensures that patients will stay asleep on their sides by the wearing a device around their back or waist while sleeping. A clinical study found in 2012 that this form of treatment is effective long-term for patients.
Shifting Daily Behaviors
Many lifestyle changes could be made to improve their sleeping experience for patients who undergo snoring and other signs of sleep apnea. Behavioral shifts such as eliminating alcohol or discontinuing smoking could be helpful for improving signs of sleep apnea. Alcohol actually relaxes the muscles within the throat, which can cause the collapse of the airway but can also trigger snoring. Substances such as cigarettes and alcohol play a larger role in the normal functioning of the body than many people think, and they should be avoided if patients cannot seem to get a healthy amount of sleep.
Patients who have seasonal allergies may benefit from taking an over-the-counter decongestant prior to going to sleep in order to improve airflow of the nose. Patients who may find it can be difficult to keep up with a behavioral plan of treatment, or who still have difficulty sleeping with treatment may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy. Sleep specialists are trained to aid patients in eliminating negative behaviors and thoughts that could be in the way of obtaining solid sleep or sticking with the treatment plan.
Overall, there are many forms of treatment for sleep apnea. The majority of insurance companies also will fund sleep testing and treatment. Patients may find comfort in a CPAP machine, wearing a dental/oral device, surgical solutions, managing weight properly, changing negative habits, and attempting positional therapy. Sleep apnea can be improved, and if patients consider these forms of treatment they could have a better chance of keeping symptoms from taking over their livelihood. At the very least, hopefully, all can have a good night’s rest.