How to Treat Sleep Apnea?

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Sleep apnea is a known yet often undiagnosed sleep disorder that affects millions worldwide. This condition disrupts the normal breathing pattern during sleep, leading to intermittent pauses in breathing.  Left untreated, this can seriously affect one’s overall health and well-being. Learn the effective treatments on how to treat sleep apnea in this guide.  

What Are the Common Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea often goes unnoticed, as its symptoms manifest during sleep. Common indicators include:
  • Loud Snoring: A constant and loud snoring pattern is a hallmark of sleep apnea.
  • Choking or Gasping: Sudden awakenings accompanied by choking or gasping for air during sleep.
  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness: Unexplained fatigue and drowsiness during waking hours.
  • Morning Headaches: Frequent headaches upon waking, often associated with oxygen deprivation during sleep.
  • Difficulty Concentrating: Impaired cognitive function, memory issues, and difficulty concentrating. 

Therapy Treatments for Sleep Apnea

Several non-invasive choices are available for treating sleep apnea, with varying levels of effectiveness. Non-surgical treatments can be categorized into two types: 
  1. Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) devices
  2. Oral Appliances 

PAP Devices

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) 

CPAP is a gold treatment for OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea). It’s often the first choice for those with moderate or severe sleep apnea.  Here’s how it works: a CPAP machine is plugged into the wall. A tube connects the treatment machine to a mask covering your mouth, nose, or both. Then, the CPAP machine blows air into your airway to keep it open while you sleep. It’s the best treatment for OSA, but here are some important things to know:
  • For it to work its magic, you’ve got to use it every night.
  • While excellent for OSA, it’s not as great for another type called central sleep apnea.
  • The machine blows out air at one speed, set by the doctor to match what you need on average. 

Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP)

When someone with sleep apnea finds it hard to use CPAP, doctors might suggest a Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) machine. It works similarly to CPAP, using a tube to push air into a mask and keep the airway open.  But unlike CPAP, BiPAP changes the air pressure. It gives a higher pressure during inhaling and a lower one when exhaling. This special feature is great for those who struggle to breathe out against the strong air from a CPAP.  Doctors might also recommend BiPAP if someone has sleep apnea along with severe obesity or other health issues like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and hypoventilation.  

Auto-Adjusting Positive Airway Pressure (APAP)

APAP, or auto-CPAP, works much like CPAP but has an effective feature. Unlike CPAP’s fixed airspeed, APAP adjusts its air pressure automatically. It’s like having a personalized sleep companion that adjusts to your needs, making your sleep experience much smoother.   Why choose APAP treatment? Here are a few reasons:
  • Sleepers require varying air pressures based on their sleeping positions. APAP detects these changes and adjusts accordingly. 
  • APAP uses smart sensors and a computer trick to figure out the perfect air pressure for you at any moment.
  • Sleep specialists can set minimum and maximum pressures to ensure it’s right for you. 

Adaptive Servo-Ventilation (ASV)

ASV) stands out as a key treatment for individuals facing central sleep apnea. This involves delivering pressurized air through a tube and mask the sleeper wears. However, its distinctiveness lies in its dynamic response to central apneic events. Instead of a fixed air level during inhalation and exhalation, ASV is intelligently programmed to release customized air pressure in real-time. This adaptive feature anticipates and responds to sleepers’ needs as they experience central apnea. Originally designed for treating Cheyne-Stokes respiration, a breathing pattern associated with heart failure, ASV has proven effective under certain conditions.  Employing this treatment might cause potential harm to individuals dealing with both central sleep apnea and specific forms of advanced congestive heart failure.  

Expiratory Positive Airway Pressure (EPAP)

Diverging from the motorized nature of CPAP and BiPAP sleep apnea treatments, EPAP introduces a different approach. Rather than relying on a machine, EPAP treatment involves two small valves placed within the nostrils. This therapy achieves airway pressure by introducing resistance that sustains airway expansion during exhalation. EPAP therapy offers distinct advantages, particularly in terms of convenience. Not dependent on electricity, it operates quietly, boasts a compact and lightweight design, and is generally well-tolerated.  This therapy is suggested for those with mild to moderate OSA who may find CPAP therapy challenging. Its efficacy extends to individuals with severe OSA. Recent findings even propose that combining EPAP with a mandibular advancement splint—a specialized oral device—proves effective in treating OSA, especially in cases where the oral device alone may not suffice in reducing sleep apnea symptoms.  

Oral Appliances

Mouth devices, known as oral appliances, aim to alleviate sleep apnea symptoms by physically widening the airway. Like EPAP, these oral appliances are recommended when individuals discover they cannot endure one of the PAP machine treatments. Among the various options, two oral appliances are commonly used.
Type of Oral Appliance Description Best Utilized For
Mandibular Advancement Splints (MAS) Custom-made dental devices worn over the top and bottom of teeth. Pulls the lower jaw forward, keeping the tongue forward and enhancing airway openness. Disruptive snoring, mild to moderate Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
Tongue-retaining devices Designed to maintain airway clearance by using suction to keep the tongue forward. Demonstrated effectiveness in reducing OSA symptom severity, though not as potent as CPAP. Reduction of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) symptoms. Short-term use is recommended.
Note: Oral appliances are considered when PAP machine treatments are intolerable. Tongue-retaining devices may be better suited for short-term use, while MAS is effective for disruptive snoring and mild to moderate OSA.  

Simple Lifestyle Changes for Managing Sleep Apnea

Making a few lifestyle adjustments can go a long way in easing the impact of sleep apnea. Here are some straightforward changes:

Weight Loss

  • Why it Matters: Shedding extra weight can make sleep and symptoms better.
  • What to Do: Doctors may suggest diet and exercise for weight management. 

Throat Exercises (Oropharyngeal Exercises)

  • How they Help: Repeated tongue, soft palate, and throat exercises can lessen sleep and symptoms.
  • Recommendation: Regularly doing these exercises for three months showed improvements in studies. 

Sleep Position Adjustment

  • The Trick: Changing how you sleep can ease sleep and symptoms.
  • Best Tip: Avoid sleeping on your back if possible; positional therapy may help break the habit. 

Limit Alcohol and Sedatives

  • Smart Move: Skip alcohol and sedatives before bedtime.
  • How This Helps: These substances relax airway muscles, leading to potential blockages. 

Quit Smoking

  • Risk Factor: Smoking increases the chances of sleep apnea.
  • Recommendation: If you smoke and have sleep apnea, quitting is recommended, though more research is needed to fully understand the link.
sleep apnea treatment

Discuss Sleep Apnea Treatment With a Professional

Explore effective solutions for treating sleep apnea today. If you face challenges with your prescribed treatment, like CPAP therapy, schedule a follow-up with a sleep specialist at Westgate Dental Centre. We can guide you on alternatives and adjust your plan for better results. Take charge of your sleep now.

Frequently Asked Questions

Anyone can experience sleep apnea, from infants to older adults.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Demographics:

  • Before age 50, it is more common in men/AMAB; after age 50, it equally affects women/AFAB.
  • Higher likelihood with increasing age.
  • Excess weight or obesity significantly raises the risk.
  • More prevalent in Black, Hispanic, or Asian populations.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) and Specific Groups

  • Common in people who take opioid pain medications.
  • Adults over 60, especially those who have heart conditions.
  • Those who live at high altitudes.

Sleep apnea can disrupt your normal sleep cycle, which has different stages:

 

Stage 1: Light sleep

This is the brief period right after falling asleep, accounting for about 5% of total sleep time.

Stage 2: Deeper sleep

This deeper stage makes up roughly 45-50% of your sleep time (increasing with age).

Stage 3: Slow-wave sleep

The deepest stage comprises about 25% of sleep time (decreasing with age). Waking up directly from this stage can cause “sleep inertia,” leading to mental fog and slowed thinking. Parasomnias like sleepwalking and sleeptalking may occur.

REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement)

The dreaming stage is where you can see eye movement beneath closed eyelids.

A specialist may diagnose sleep apnea based on your symptoms and sleep history. 

The evaluation includes overnight monitoring of your body functions during sleep testing, either at a sleep center or through home sleep tests. Tests can detect sleep apnea by monitoring heart, lung, and brain activity. Breathing patterns and blood oxygen levels are also observed.

If your results are not normal, more tests may be needed. Sometimes, treatment is given without extra tests, but it’s advisable to have polysomnography, especially if central sleep apnea is suspected.

Your doctor may refer you to other specialists for obstructive sleep apnea to check for nasal or throat blockages. Evaluation by a cardiologist or neurologist might be necessary to explore the causes of central sleep apnea.

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