There are several different types of sleep apnea treatment available to a person that is suffering from it. Treatment depends on the person, the severity of the case and the type of sleep apnea. The mildest forms of sleep apnea may be cured through basic lifestyle changes. Slightly more serious forms may need a mouthpiece which works by keeping the airway open during the night.
Sleep apnea machines may be used to treat moderate and severe cases. The two most commonly used machines are CPAP and VPAP machines. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, and VPAP stands for Variable Positive Airway Pressure. The most severe cases of sleep apnea may only be treatable through surgery under general anaesthesia.
Lifestyle changes may be a very effective sleep apnea treatment for people with very mild cases.
- Get healthy! A smaller neck and a lower body weight may help relieve mild sleep apnea if you are currently overweight. Fatty tissue in the neck area can contribute to the airway becoming narrowed or blocked.
- Keep away from alcohol and sedatives, particularly near bedtime. Alcohol is classed as a depressant, and can have a relaxing effect on certain muscle tissue, as can sedatives such as sleeping medicines. Hence, relaxation of the tissue can cause obstructive sleep apnea.
- Don’t lie on your back – Lying on your side may also help to relieve mild sleep apnea, as it is more difficult for gravity to play its part in causing the airway to collapse.
- Quit the cigarettes – Any type of smoking has a negative impact on your lungs and your throat area. Not only does smoking make it harder for the body to efficiently transport oxygen around, but fluid can build in the throat and lungs. This can causes the tissue around the airway to become inflamed, increasing chances of airway narrowing or blockages.
- Open the nasal passages – Many people who have sleep apnea struggle to easily breathe through their nose, that’s why some of the masks on sleep apnea machines are designed to help keep the nasal passages open. Using nasal strips may increase airflow through the nasal passages.
Mouthpieces may be used as a sleep apnea treatment in mild to moderate cases of sleep apnea. They prevent blockage of the airway by surrounding soft tissues including the tongue. The upper jaw is kept slightly forward to help the airway remain open and prevent it from narrowing or temporarily closing. Many different mouthpieces are available, again dependent on the individual and their specific case.
There are two main categories of mouthpieces, pre-made and custom made. Pre-made mouthpieces are normally mass-produced, and the user normally puts it in boiling water to soften it so that the mouthpiece can somewhat “mould” to their mouth when they put it in before bed. Mouthpieces are usually extremely effective in stopping snoring.
A custom-made mouthpiece is usually much more expensive, and is tailor made for the individual suffering from sleep apnea. These are usually more comfortable as they are specifically designed, but not always. An advantage of using mouthpieces is that they are usually significantly cheaper than using a sleep apnea machine. Discomfort is usually short-term, and many people achieve very fast results through use of a mouthpiece. However, there are also some downsides. Discomfort and possibly movement in the jaw and the teeth, waking up with a dry mouth and excessive saliva production can be downsides to using certain mouthpieces.
Sleep Apnea Machines
Moderate to severe cases of sleep apnea may need to be treated with a sleep apnea machine.
- CPAP Machines – Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machines provide a constant flow of air to help assist the user in their breathing.
- VPAP/BiPAP Machines – Variable Positive Airway Pressure or Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure machines use different air pressures when the user exhales and inhales, less pressure on the exhalation may make the breathing feel more natural than it does using a CPAP machine.
- Potential drawbacks – Some people find it difficult to use any type of sleep apnea machines, primarily because they are invasive and can be uncomfortable. In the absence of a humidifier, the dry air pumped through the machine can be irritating to the skin, nose and eyes around where the mask is placed.
There are many different type of mask available, and new technology is making sleep apnea machines smaller and quieter.
Surgery, a last resort
In a particularly bad case of sleep apnea, when other options have been exhausted, surgery may be the only type of sleep apnea treatment available.
Somnoplasty – Somnoplasty is one of the mildest forms of surgery available to someone who is suffering from sleep apnea. It involves removing some of the tissue around the airway such as the uvula. It is usually performed under local anaesthesia.
Nasal surgery may help to cure the problem of blocked or narrowed nasal passages. As aforementioned, many people who have sleep apnea have problems breathing through their nose. The length and seriousness of the operation is completely dependent on the type of nasal surgery that is recommended.
Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) involves the removal of the uvula and pharyngeal arches and is conducted under general anaesthesia. Sometimes the tonsils and adenoids are removed if they are present. The role of UPPP is usually to widen the airway in order to prevent narrowing and blockage. UPPP surgery can have significant short-term and long-term side effects, including a change in voice frequency and infection after the operation.
Maxillomandibular advancement (MMA) surgery is where the jaw is brought forward, to help keep the airway open. This is a serious operation which takes place under general anaesthesia and lasts a few hours. It may prove very effective in helping reduce sleep apnea, but can cause slight facial changes.
Tracheostomy – This is an extremely serious operation which involves an incision in the trachea to create an airway below the natural airway. The patient can then breath through the hole made in the tracheostomy, and airflow through it is usually controlled through a valve. There can be significant side effects including infection, severe bleeding, and many other side effects, both short-term and long-term.
Other surgical procedures may be recommended for sleep apnea treatment, very much depending on the specific case.