Sleep apnea treatment options
Sleep apnea is a common term for breathing problems that are experienced during sleep. The most common form, known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), afflicts at least 9% of the adult population.
During sleep, most muscles in our bodies relax completely, but muscles of the airways maintain some tone in order to keep the airways open and allow us to breathe. For people with Sleep Apnea, however, this is not the case. Their airway muscles relax too much, causing one of the two incidents:
- A partial blockage of the airways causing a partial reduction of the airflow to the lungs (hypopnea)
- A complete blockage of the airways causing a complete interruption of the airflow to the lungs (apnea)
Both types of incidents lead to a reduction in blood oxygen levels, which causes immediate detrimental consequences on the normal functions of the brain and the heart. The mean number of such incidents per hour is used to assess the severity of one's apnea:
|Number of breathing disruptions per hour||Severity of Sleep Apnea|
|Less than 5||Normal|
|5 to 15||Mild|
|15 to 30||Moderate|
|More than 30||Severe|
Breathing disruptions during sleep cause the brain to be starved of oxygen. This leads to a person's arousal from deep sleep, which is completely unnoticed by most people. However, the end result of such arousals is that people suffering from this disease do not spend enough time in deep sleep and their brains never completely recover during the night. This is the primary cause of most of the symptoms associated with Sleep Apnea.
There are several options available to people suffering from Sleep Apnea, depending on the severity of their case. Here is the list of available treatments.
Continuous positive airways pressure (CPAP)
CPAP is the most effective treatment of Sleep Apnea. CPAP treatment involves a small device, which supplies a constant stream of air through a hose into a special mask. CPAP users wear the mask as they sleep and the pressurised air supplied by the machine keeps their airways open. Because the air pressure can be adjusted to each individual user, CPAP is effective in treating all severity levels of Sleep Apnea. However, it is important to note that CPAP is only effective if used nightly. As soon as CPAP treatment is stopped, the symptoms return.
Sleep apnea severity is strongly associated with excess weight and obesity. Losing weight, among all of its other health benefits, will dramatically affect the symptoms for overweight and obese people. Weight loss increases the tone of the airway muscles and lightens their load.
The severity is progressively reduced as more weight is lost. In many cases, weight loss alone is enough to completely alleviate all of the symptoms. To this day, weight loss is the only option that can completely cure Sleep Apnea.
Oral dental appliances are specially designed by dentists with expertise in treating OSA. These dental appliances keep the lower jaw extended forward as the patient sleeps.
This causes tension in the airway muscles and helps to keep them open throughout the night. The success of this treatment, however, varies from patient to patient. Oral dental appliances are thus only recommended for people with mild Sleep Apnea.
Surgical intervention may help in some cases. Surgery is most successful for people with adenoids, enlarged tonsils, nasal polyps, or facial deformations such as deviated nasal septum or small jaw. Surgical intervention can enlarge the airways or tighten the airway muscles (depending on its nature).
While surgery can dramatically reduce the severity of Sleep Apnea, for most people it is only a temporary measure as their Sleep Apnea symptoms return with time.
Avoiding alcohol before bedtime reduces the severity of Sleep Apnea. Some medications, such as sleeping pills and muscle relaxants should also be avoided due to their worsening of symptoms. Talk to your physician to find out whether the medication you are taking is contributing to your Sleep Apnea symptoms.
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