Sleep Apnea Treatment

Although snoring is considered to be a nuisance, it can actually be a symptom of a serious health problem. If your partner snores heavily when they sleep, they could be one of the estimated 4% of the U.S. population that suffers from sleep apnea.

Prompt diagnosis and treatment should be obtained, not only for a better night’s sleep, but also to prevent any long-term effects on the health and wellbeing of the sleep apnea patient.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition where a person has regular interruptions to their breathing while they sleep. There are several varieties of the condition, but most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea or OSA.

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a physical blockage in the airway. This is usually caused by the tongue or soft tissues in the neck, as they relax while the patient sleeps.

When the airway becomes blocked, oxygen cannot travel freely between the mouth and lungs. The lungs then send a distress signal to the brain to tell it that the patient is not receiving enough oxygen. The brain then tells the patient’s body to take a deeper, stronger breath than normal which is strong enough to push past the obstruction and restart the pattern of normal breathing again. This sounds like a period of breath-holding, followed by a gasp or snort.

Some patients may experience one of two episodes of sleep apnea during the night, while others could have upwards of 30 interruptions to their regular breathing during one night of sleep.

Causes of sleep apnea

There are a range of factors which are considered to contribute towards the development of sleep apnea. These include:

Obesity. An increasing number of patients in the U.S. are diagnosed with sleep apnea each year. Experts believe that there is a direct correlation between sleep apnea and obesity due to the additional amount of fat and skin around the neck of people who are severely overweight.

Smoking. Smoking has also been linked to obstructive sleep apnea. The nicotine present in cigarettes and cigars has been shown to cause inflammation and irritation of the airway, making it narrower and more likely to become blocked.

Excessive alcohol intake. Alcohol is a relaxant, and patients who consume more than the recommended amount may cause the muscles in the neck and throat to relax more than they should.

Age. Thanks to the natural decrease in collagen production as we age, older people are more likely to experience sagging skin.

Enlarged tonsils or adenoids. This are located next to the airway. If they become swollen they could partially block it, causing OSA.

Genetics. People who have a family history of sleep apnea may be more likely to develop the condition.

Treating sleep apnea

It may surprise you to know that sleep apnea is considered to be a dental as well as a medical condition, and your dentist can help you find the best way to alleviate your symptoms.

There are various treatments available, and it may be necessary for you to try different therapies to find the one that works best for you. However, in addition to sleep apnea therapy, you might need to make some changes to your lifestyle, such as losing weight, exercising more, cutting your alcohol intake and stopping smoking. These changes will naturally improve your sleep apnea symptoms and help you feel healthier.

Oral appliance therapy

Oral appliance therapy involves wearing a device inside your mouth that will help keep your airway open. Some appliances change the position of your tongue, so that it cannot fall into the airway, while others change the position of the jaw, so that there is a wider space at the back of the throat.

Each oral appliance is custom-created for the patient, ensuring that it is the most comfortable fit possible. Even then, oral appliances can take some adjustment. At the same time, these treatments tend to be easier to use and just as successful as traditional CPAP treatments.

Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) Machines

If you are suffering from severe sleep apnea or you find that oral appliance therapy isn’t helpful in reducing your symptoms, you may be recommended to try positive airway pressure, also known as PAP.

PAP therapy involves wearing a mask over your face while you sleep. The mask is attached to a machine which delivers a supply of positive air to the patient, which is strong enough to push past the blockage.

The PAP mask may also be uncomfortable at first. However, PAP therapy is extremely successful in treating obstructive sleep apnea.

If you would like to find out more about sleep apnea and the types of treatment available, please do not hesitate to contact our friendly, professional team who would be delighted to help you.