When left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can lead to multiple health conditions. Some of these conditions can be life threatening in the long run, such as high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia, heart attack, and more. That is why it is important to get the right obstructive sleep apnea treatment as soon as possible.
The tricky thing about this sleep disorder is the cause and severity varies from one person to another. Not to mention the contributory factors and underlying conditions that worsens the condition. Thus, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for everyone. So how do you get the right treatment? Simple, go straight to your doctor. They can analyze your symptoms and recommend the best treatment approach.
Here are the different techniques and treatment methods used for effective obstructive sleep apnea treatment.
Patient Education and Lifestyle Changes
Often, OSA can be managed by simple lifestyle changes, especially in mild cases. Doctors often recommend lifestyle changes to change the overall health of their patients. This includes:
- Weight loss
- Regular exercise
- Avoiding alcohol (no alcohol several hours before bedtime)
- Avoiding too much caffeine
- Quit smoking
- Avoiding sedative medications such as sleeping pills or anti-anxiety drugs
- Avoid sleeping on your back, rather sleep on your side
- Use allergy medications or nasal decongestants
If these simple lifestyle changes don’t improve the OSA, or if the condition is moderate to severe, then your doctor will recommend specific and a more thorough obstructive sleep apnea treatment.This can include but are not limited to therapies, oral devices, and in more severe cases, surgery.
Positive Airway Pressure
Positive airway pressure machines are used for treating moderate to severe cases of sleep apnea. It involves the use of a breathing mask, worn over the nose, or nose and mouth during sleep. The mask is supplied with regulated air pressure that flows either continuously or intermittently, through a flexible tube.
There are multiple options of machines for positive airway pressure, such as the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), Autotitrating (APA), Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP), Variable Positive Airway Pressure (VPAP), etc.
Out of these machines, CPAP is the most commonly used device. With CPAP, the air that you breathe is continuous and a little stronger than the surrounding air, but just enough to keep the patient’s air passages open. BiPAP, on the other hand, uses one level of air pressure for inhalation, and another for exhalation. APAP varies the air pressure depending on the needs of the patient.
This treatment aims to reduce the frequency of respiratory events (keeps airways from collapsing) that takes place when you are asleep. Thus, it effectively reduces daytime drowsiness by giving you good quality sleep. Although it is effective, many find wearing a mask during sleep cumbersome and uncomfortable. Not to mention the machine makes noise, which can be irritating for other people in the room. However, newer models of CPAP machines are smaller and quieter.
These devices need prescriptions and the air flow’s pressure settings are pre-set based on the measurements taken by your doctor. Also, while positive airway pressure machines can help mitigate the occurrence of snoring, it does not eliminate snoring.
Oral appliances are prescribed as an alternative for people who don’t want to wear PAP breathing masks and be attached to the machine while they sleep. There are two main types of oral devices for this sleep disorder:
- Mandibular Advancement Devices (MAD) – This device keeps the lower jaw pulled a little forward to keep it from restricting airflow. This device is also prescribed for people with chronic snoring and sleep related conditions like bruxism (teeth clenching or grinding), which are both associated with OSA.
- Tongue Retaining Devices (TRD) – As its name suggests, this device keeps the tongue in place and prevents it from sliding back into the mouth during sleep. If the tongue moves all the way back to the airway, it can block the airflow and cause breathing problems. Though most patients sleep better with MADs, TRDs work just as effectively in providing a good night’s sleep.
Although convenient, non-invasive, and practical, oral devices are used for mild to moderate cases only. Nevertheless, they can definitely reduce the negative effects of sleep apnea and provide aid for better sleep. Also, some people still find wearing a mouthpiece for the entire night cumbersome. If you are the type of person who travels a lot, then these types of obstructive sleep apnea treatment for you.
For people who are unable to use CPAP, doctors can prescribe neuro-stimulation therapies, such as the following:
- For Obstructive Sleep Apnea – Hypoglossal Neuro-stimulation Therapy – this is designed for treating individuals with moderate to severe OSA who are unable to use CPAP devices. This therapy aims to improve muscle tone to key tongue muscles to effectively control upper airway flow and reduce, if not eliminate, sleep apnea.
- For Central Sleep Apnea – Neuro-stimulation Therapy – this therapy is an outpatient, minimally invasive procedure done by a cardiologist. It involves the use of an implantable system that stimulates a specific nerve in the chest (phrenic nerve) and triggers it to send a signal to the diaphragm (large muscles that control breathing). The signal will stimulate breathing the same way the brain signals for breathing. The device is placed under the skin, at the upper chest area, is battery operated, and has two tiny wires: one that delivers the stimulation and the other to sense breathing.
Surgeries are typically used for cases where therapies and breathing devices couldn’t help the condition. Some surgeries used for obstructive sleep apnea treatment include:
- Surgery to remove enlarged adenoids or tonsils that block the airways
- Nasal surgery to straighten out the curved partition between the nostrils (deviated septum) or remove polyps.
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty or tissue removal – In this procedure, the doctor removes specific tissues that block the airway, such as tissues from the top and back of the mouth. Adenoids and tonsils may also be removed. This surgery is done in the hospital and requires general anesthesia.
- Maxillomandibular advancement – Better known as jaw surgery, this procedure involves the moving of the upper and lower parts of the jaw from the rest of the facial bones. This is to widen the space in the soft palate and behind the tongue.
- Tracheostomy – This surgery in the neck is used for severe and life-threatening OSA cases. In this procedure, the doctor makes an opening inside the neck and inserts a plastic or metal tube. This tube will help air bypass the blocked passage in the throat and go straight to the lungs.
In most cases, sleep apnea is treatable. Talk to your doctor now and get the right treatment for you.