Treatments for Sleep Apnea – Is It Curable?

Although sleep apnea can be a very serious medical condition, it is usually treatable. A large problem with sleep apnea is that the side effects associated with it can worsen over time. Additionally, there is usually a significant time lapse between someone developing sleep apnea and realizing that they have it. There are many different treatments of sleep apnea, depending on the severity of the condition.

These include changes in lifestyle, use of mouthpieces and use of breathing devices. Certain cases of sleep apnea may even require surgical procedures under general anesthetic. This article will discuss the different treatments for sleep apnea that are available to people who suffer from the condition.

A change in lifestyle may be all a person with a mild case of sleep apnea needs to be relieved of the condition. The lifestyle changes listed below fall into two categories, altering your sleeping position and living a healthy lifestyle. Here are some simple things that you can do to try and relieve yourself of sleep apnea.

  • Lose excess weight and decrease your neck circumference – Losing weight will decrease the fatty deposits that surround your throat area, potentially widening the airway to allow easier flow of air to and from the lungs.
  • Avoid alcohol near bedtime – Alcohol is classed as a depressant, meaning it can reduce the function of certain parts of the body and the brain. This relaxing effect on the muscles may make the airway thinner and reduce blood flow.
  • Avoid sedatives near bedtime – Like alcohol, sedatives and sleeping medicines have a relaxing effect on muscle tissue. Avoiding these sedatives, particularly near bedtime, may increase the possibility that your breathing stays regular and normal while you are asleep.
  • Change sleeping position – By not lying on your back you are making it less likely that your tongue or other soft tissues in the surrounding area will block or narrow your airway. When you sleep lying on your back, gravity makes airway blockage more likely.
  • Stop smoking – Smoking reduces the efficiency of the lungs and the heart, and also can cause inflammation in the throat. If you stop smoking you may be reducing your chances of having sleep apnea.
  • Keep nasal passages open – A nasal spray or nasal strips can help to keep your nasal passages open. This may allow air to flow in and out of your lungs with greater ease.

Mouthpieces Can Be Used as Treatments for Sleep Apnea

Mouthpieces can be used in mild and moderate cases of sleep apnea as an obstructive sleep apnea treatment. They will probably be completely ineffective in severe cases. The sleep apnea mouthpiece works by pushing a person’s lower jaw forward. This keeps the airway open to help prevent snoring and sleep apnea. Mouthpieces are usually quite intrusive, and if they do not fit perfectly they can cause pain in the teeth and the jaw of the person wearing it.

Mouthpieces have other side effects. A person that wears it may have a very dry mouth in the morning. Some people who use mouthpieces encounter a build-up of saliva because of the way that certain mouthpieces are designed. Certain mouthpieces encourage saliva production because a part of them is in contact with the area of the mouth that produces saliva. This can be annoying and inconvenient. In the long term, they may even cause movement in a person’s teeth and jaw.

Many people only encounter mild symptoms, providing they have the right mouthpiece. There are only certain cases in which a mouthpiece will be an effective method of treatment. If a person suffers from chronic, heavy snoring, many of the mouthpieces will reduce the snoring significantly.

Breathing Devices as Treatments for Sleep Apnea

Breathing devices are another sleep apnea treatment. The most frequently used treatment is called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure or CPAP. A CPAP keeps the airway open by providing a continuous flow of air into the body through the nasal passages. The pressurized air is from the room, and is blown at the appropriate pressure to keep the airway open. The machine may add humidity to the air. More severe cases of sleep apnea will require the CPAP to blow air at a greater pressure to keep the airway open. It should be noted that a CPAP is classified as a medical device, and is usually no larger than the average shoe box. There are two parts to a CPAP, the facemask and the machine to pump the air. CPAP machines are usually only available by prescription.

A Bi-Level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) machine delivers varying air pressure into the body of the apnea patient. The BiPAP works with the patient’s breathing and varies the air pressure accordingly. This machine usually allows the user to sleep more deeply as they need less energy in order to exhale. A BiPap machine is sometimes known as a Variable Positive Airway Pressure Machine or VPAP.

The aforementioned Positive Airway Pressure machines are the most commonly used breathing devices for treatment of sleep apnea. Some people find these methods intrusive and uncomfortable, as this type of treatment involves wearing a mask all night to keep breathing constant. Side effects can include irritation to the nose, throat and eyes.

In Serious Cases, Surgery Is One of the Treatments for Sleep Apnea

There are a few different types of surgery available to those suffering from a bad case of sleep apnea. These vary depending on the patient’s specific requirements.

  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is a surgical procedure where the uvula and pharyngeal arches are removed. In some cases the tonsils and part of the soft palate are also removed. This surgery is conducted under general anaesthetic. There can be a number of side effects including temporary voice change, reduced tasting ability and an decreased sense of smell. However, UPPP is normally quite an effective procedure.
  • Maxillomandibular advancement (MMA) surgery is a serious operation that lasts a few hours. It works by bringing the upper and lower jaw forward to increase the size of the airway. It is seen as a very effective way of ridding the patient of sleep apnea. Side effects of this surgery include pain in the lower lip, jaw and chin. This surgical procedure may also change the shape of the patients face, but normally the change is only slight.
  • Tracheostomy – A tracheostomy is a very serious operation, in which a permanent opening is made in the patient’s neck. This is used in severe cases of sleep apnea. The hole that is made is the size of a small coin, and is between the neck and the windpipe, to allow free transition of air in and out of the lungs. This is done through a valve which is opened through the night, so the air bypasses any blockages at the top of the throat.
  • Other less common surgical procedures may also be available to certain patients.

Above are some of the most common treatments of sleep apnea. However, there are other options available. The treatment required will depend on your particular case. If you or your sleeping partner believes that you have sleeping apnea, you should seek medical advice so that you receive the most appropriate treatment. There are many treatments for sleep apnea, and the sooner it is addressed the better, as many of the symptoms will worsen over time.