Sleep Apnea Treatment Options
What follows are the most common ways to treat this sleep disorder:
- CPAP, BiPAP, and VPAP machines – Also referred to as “positive airway pressure devices,” CPAP, BiPAP, and VPAP machines are often recommended for patients suffering from moderate to severe sleep apnea. The device consists of a mask that fits over the mouth and nose of the patient. The mask is connected by tube to a machine that supplies either a continuous or intermittent flow of pressurized air into the patient’s throat. That stream of air prevents the airway from collapsing, which allows the patient to breathe normally while sleeping and reduces or eliminates snoring.
- Mouth guards – For people with mild to moderate sleep apnea symptoms, oral appliances are often an effective way to treat this condition. These devices are similar to the sports mouth guards worn by athletes, but sleep apnea patients wear their mouth guards while they sleep. The device holds the lower jaw in a forward position, which helps to keep the airway open and prevents it from becoming blocked. Although mouth guards are usually prescribed to patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea, they can also be effective for patients with more severe cases who aren’t comfortable wearing CPAP devices while they sleep. This form of oral appliance therapy provides a variety of benefits for the patient. Generally speaking, most people find mouth guards to be relatively comfortable and easy to wear, and they don’t require use of the machinery included with positive airway pressure devices – machinery that produces a certain amount of noise and may impact sleep quality for some patients. Mouth guards designed for sleep apnea patients are custom made for each individual by the patient’s dentist. Other oral appliances that can be purchased over-the-counter and are generally considered to be one-size-fits-all are not approved by the FDA to treat sleep apnea and should not be used to treat this condition.
- Neuro-stimulation therapy – Another alternative to positive airway pressure devices involves a treatment called neuro-stimulation therapy. One form of this relatively new technique involves use of an implant that sends signals to the patient’s tongue muscles, instructing them to remain positioned in such a way that the person’s airway remains open while they sleep. Another type of implant that is also available to some patients stimulates the phrenic nerve in the patient’s chest. That nerve instructs the patient’s diaphragm to maintain a normal breathing pattern while the person is sleeping, thus eliminating the symptoms related to sleep apnea. These battery-powered devices are typically implanted under the patient’s skin by a cardiologist in an out-patient procedure.
- Positional therapy – Most sleep apnea patients experience worse symptoms if they sleep on their backs. This simple yet effective treatment option involves simply teaching patients how they can become accustomed to sleeping on their sides instead, thus greatly reducing the occurrence of sleep apnea. Although positional therapy can be effective in patients with mild sleep apnea symptoms, those with moderate to severe cases will still experience symptoms no matter what their sleeping position is.
- Nasal decongestants – Another simple treatment option for people with mild sleep apnea symptoms is use of a nasal decongestant to reduce sinus congestion and snoring while the patient sleeps.
Reducing the Risk
Although sleep apnea can pose a serious health risk for people with severe cases, there are several effective treatment options. But as effective as these methods may be, it can be even more effective to take proactive steps to reduce your risk of developing this sleep disorder to begin with.
While sleep apnea can affect people of any gender or age, there are certain factors that put people at a higher risk of having this sleep disorder. Not all of these are within our control, but some are. Those include the following:
- Obesity – Some studies suggest that about 70 percent of sleep apnea patients are obese or overweight. If you are one of these patients, losing weight should help to reduce your symptoms. Talk to a health care professional about healthy ways to take the weight off and keep it off.
- Drinking alcohol – Research shows that drinking alcohol before going to sleep worsens sleep apnea symptoms. One good way to reduce your risk is by simply not drinking alcohol.
- Taking drugs – People who use drugs, whether prescribed or recreational, could run a higher risk of developing sleep apnea. Of particular concern are people who use sedatives, tranquilizers, and opioids, all of which cause throat muscles to relax.
- Smoking – You can add an increased risk of developing sleep apnea to the long list of reasons why you should not smoke tobacco. Smoking increases fluid retention and inflammation of the smoker’s upper airway.
Whether you suffer from a mild, moderate, or severe form of sleep apnea, it’s important to find an effective way to treat this condition. In its most severe form, sleep apnea can actually be life threatening and can worsen other chronic conditions that might be present in the patient. But even people with mild sleep apnea would do well to remember that this sleep disorder can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. And sleep deprivation has a negative impact on your overall health. For more information about effective sleep apnea treatment options, talk to your doctor or your Cedar Park, Texas dentist today.