Sleep apnea

One of the most serious sleep disorders is sleep apnea where you literally stop breathing during sleep. This may happen hundreds of times a night, causing you to awaken slightly to resume breathing. Such fragmented sleep is not restful. Sleep apnea may lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, weight problems or other health problems.

Symptoms:

  • Excessive snoring
  • Awaking with a headache
  • Awaking without feeling refreshed
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Awaking gasping for breath
  • Sudden body movements during sleep
  • Weight gain

How is sleep apnea treated?

Sleep apnea is treated with lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, breathing devices and surgery. The goal is to help you restore regular breathing during sleeping and relieve your snoring and/or daytime sleepiness.

Lifestyle changes

If you have mild sleep apnea, some changes in daily activities or habits might be all the treatment you need.

  • Avoid alcohol and medicines that make you sleepy. They make it harder for your throat to stay open while you sleep.
  • Lose weight if you’re overweight or obese. Even a little weight loss can improve your symptoms.
  • Sleep on your side instead of your back to help keep your throat open. You can sleep with special pillows or shirts that prevent you from sleeping on your back.
  • Keep your nasal passages open at night with nasal sprays or allergy medicines, if needed. Talk with your doctor about whether these treatments might help you.
  • If you smoke, quit. Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit smoking.

Mouthpieces

A mouthpiece may help you if you have mild sleep apnea. Your doctor also may recommend a mouthpiece if you snore loudly but don’t have sleep apnea.

A dentist or orthodontist can make a custom-fit plastic mouthpiece for treating sleep apnea. The mouthpiece will adjust your lower jaw and your tongue to help keep your airways open while you sleep. If you use a mouthpiece, tell your doctor if you have discomfort or pain while using the device. You may need periodic office visits so your doctor can adjust your mouthpiece to fit better.

Breathing devices

CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is the most common treatment for moderate to severe sleep apnea in adults. A CPAP machine uses a mask that fits over your mouth and nose, or just over your nose. The machine gently blows air into your throat. The pressure from the air helps keep your airway open while you sleep.

Treating sleep apnea may help you stop snoring. But not snoring doesn’t mean that you no longer have sleep apnea or can stop using CPAP. Your sleep apnea will return if you stop using your CPAP machine or don’t use it correctly.

CPAP treatment may cause side effects in some people. These side effects include a dry or stuffy nose, irritated skin on your face, dry mouth, and headaches. If your CPAP isn’t adjusted properly, you may get stomach bloating and discomfort while wearing the mask.

If you’re having trouble with CPAP side effects contact us to help you. For example, the CPAP settings or size/fit of the mask might need to be adjusted. Adding moisture to the air as it flows through the mask or using nasal spray can help relieve a dry, stuffy, or runny nose.

There are many types of CPAP machines and masks. Tell your doctor if you’re not happy with the type you’re using. He or she may suggest switching to a different type that might work better for you.

Surgery

Some people who have sleep apnea might benefit from surgery. Surgery is done to widen breathing passages. It usually involves shrinking, stiffening, or removing excess tissue in the mouth and throat or resetting the lower jaw. In children, surgery to remove the tonsils, if they’re blocking the airway, might be helpful, but your child’s doctor may suggest waiting some time to see whether these tissues shrink on their own.