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This disorder has two forms: Obstructive and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is when something blocks the airway. In central sleep apnea, the brain fails to send the signals that tell the body to breathe. Causes of this form are hard to pinpoint. Factors may include genetics, other health conditions, and lifestyle. Specifics on these factors are currently sparse and not fully understood.
Diagnosing sleep apnea consists of an overnight sleep study called polysomnography. While the person sleeps, specific machines detect how many times they stop breathing. Additionally, the equipment tests how low the blood oxygen levels drop. Snoring often accompanies this condition.
Patients may need to repeat sleep studies to track their response to treatment. The doctor will want to watch for signs of complications due to the lack of oxygen.
Untreated sleep apnea increases the risks of serious health problems due to ongoing oxygen deprivation. These conditions include glaucoma, heart attack, high blood pressure, cancer, and diabetes.
There are many available treatments for this sleep disorder. This list will detail some of these treatments.
One treatment for this sleep disorder is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device.
A CPAP machine has a mask that goes on the face. The device then pushes air through the mask to open the airway. This way, the airway stays open and has a constant supply of oxygen. This treatment is one of the most common ways to address sleep apnea. CPAPs also reduce snoring related to obstructions.
In some cases, doctors can prescribe auto-CPAPs. This device adjusts pressure automatically rather than pushing out constant levels of air.
Some patients find CPAPs too uncomfortable. The patient may be claustrophobic or unable to sleep due to the mask. Different masks are available to try for a more comfortable fit. Most of the time, patients adapt to the CPAP mask. Nobody should ever quit using their CPAP without consulting with their doctor. Patients who do well with the CPAPs should still follow doctor-recommended lifestyle changes.
Moving toward a better lifestyle can make a difference in sleep apnea.
Exercise and weight loss can reduce obstruction. Reaching a healthy weight can potentially resolve obstructive sleep apnea entirely. Even without weight loss, symptoms can improve with exercise. Physical activity, even if it's low-intensity, improves symptoms and works against associated complications.
It the patient is smoking, breathing gets affected and can make symptoms worse. Also, tobacco and alcohol further increase your risk of developing health conditions.
Alcohol and any sedative medications relax the airway, which makes obstructions worse. For this reason, you should avoid these items as much as possible.
For patients who cannot use a CPAP, surgery may be an option. There are many surgeries available, depending on symptoms and causes.
Tissue removal involves taking away tissue in the back of your mouth. Sometimes, this procedure also removes tonsils and adenoids. Although this surgery can reduce snoring, it is not as reliable or effective as a CPAP. Another similar method reduces the size of the tissue. These procedures are more useful for mild to moderate symptoms.
A jaw repositioning surgery moves your jaw forward. This procedure opens up the airway and can decrease instances of obstruction.
Implanting plastic rods into the soft palate is a recently introduced procedure. More research is needed to assess the effectiveness of this surgery.
Another surgery that needs more research is nerve stimulation. A surgeon implants a device that controls the nerve in the tongue. The intended purpose of these is to reduce tongue movement that can obstruct the airway.
For severe or deadly cases, a surgeon can construct a new airway. During this procedure, the surgeon inserts a plastic or metal tube into the airway. This tube prevents any airway collapses.
If an obstruction is due to enlarged tonsils or adenoids, a surgeon can remove them to unblock the airway.
If obesity is the cause of obstruction, weight loss surgery may help. Reducing the pressure on the airway by losing weight can relieve symptoms.
Two types of oral appliances are available to open the upper airway. A mandibular repositioning retainer moves your jaw. These appliances fit over the top and bottom teeth. The positioning prevents the jaw from being obstructive. Tongue retainers keep the tongue positioned forward away from the airway. Some retainers combine both of these mouthpieces.
These oral appliances are not quite as useful as CPAP machines. Patients receiving retainers may need to consult with a dentist or orthodontist. The reason is to see if any other helpful dental revisions are available or to have retainers fitted.
Orofacial therapy works to change muscle structure for patients with obstructive tissue and muscles. Weak muscles in the upper airway can contribute to airway collapse and obstruction. This therapy exercises these muscles to prevent any collapsing. Consistent muscle exercises get assigned in the office for at-home practice as well.
Orofacial therapy is a noninvasive option that can supplement other treatments. Recent research shows promising results thus far. This treatment works well for children and adults. Also, conditioning these muscles are suitable for patients who need extra treatment help.
For many patients, sleeping on their back makes their apnea and snoring worse. The tongue and soft palate relax and cover the upper airway in this position. It may be helpful to sleep on your side and with your head and neck elevated.
Some patients have difficulty preventing themselves from rolling onto their backs. In these situations, you can attach an object to the back of your shirt. Some people use a tennis ball. If you try to roll over, the item will get in the way. Buyable items can alert you or vibrate if you attempt to roll over. If you prefer to, sleeping on your abdomen is helpful as well.
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