By Denise DeWitt / EmpowHer Writer
Sleep apnea is a potentially serious breathing condition that causes a person to stop breathing for varying lengths of time during sleep. The three types of sleep apnea share similar symptoms, but the risk factors for sleep apnea vary for each type, as do the treatments.
Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea
• Lose weight – If you are overweight or obese, this can reduce the excess fat that is restricting your airway. Even a little weight loss may help improve your symptoms.
• Avoid alcohol and medications that make you sleepy – They can make it harder for your throat to stay open while you sleep.
• Sleep on your side – Your throat is more likely to close when you sleep on your back. Prop pillows against your back to keep yourself from rolling over while you sleep.
• Keep nasal passages open – Nose sprays or allergy medicines may help. Talk to your doctor to find out if these medications might be right for you.
• Stop smoking – You can reduce fluid retention and inflammation in your throat by giving up cigarettes.
If these lifestyle changes don’t bring about enough improvement, a mouthpiece or oral appliance may be the next thing to try if you have mild sleep apnea. A dentist can create a custom-fit mouthpiece out of plastic that will adjust the position of your lower jaw and tongue to help keep your airway open while you sleep. This can also help reduce snoring in people who don’t have sleep apnea.
For moderate to severe sleep apnea, it may be necessary to use a machine that will help move air into your lungs. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the most common treatment for this level of sleep apnea in adults. The CPAP machine uses a mask that fits over your nose and mouth, or just your nose. The machine gently blows air into your throat with enough pressure to keep your airways open so you can breathe normally.
If this device doesn’t work for you, you may need to try a bilevel positive pressure device (BiPAP). BiPAP provides two levels of air pressure – a higher level when you inhale and less pressure while you exhale.
Depending on the specific cause of your sleep apnea, surgery may help correct the problem by widening your breathing passages. One type of surgery involves shrinking the tissue at the back of the throat using small shots or other treatments. In another procedure, your doctor may stiffen the excess tissue in your throat by making a small cut in the tissue and inserting a small piece of stiff plastic. These procedures can be done in the doctor’s office.
Surgery may also be done to remove excess tissue from the rear of the mouth and from the top of the throat. While this procedure is often able to stop snoring, it may not succeed in stopping sleep apnea since other tissue further down the throat may continue to be a problem. This procedure is usually performed for people who can’t tolerate CPAP.
Another type of surgery alters the bone structure of the face by shifting the upper and lower parts of the jaw forward. A rectangular piece of bone is removed from the mandible, creating more space behind the tongue and soft palate at the back of the mouth, which reduces the chance that breathing will be blocked.
If all other treatments fail and you have severe, life-threatening sleep apnea, your doctor may need to perform a tracheotomy. This requires the surgeon to insert a tube that you can breathe through into an opening in the front of your neck. During the day, the tube can be covered. At night, you uncover the opening and breathe through the tube to bypass the blockage higher up in your throat or mouth.
Treating Central Sleep Apnea
Treatment for medical problems – Since central sleep apnea is often associated with heart or neurological problems, treating those conditions may help eliminate sleep apnea.
Oxygen– Using supplemental oxygen through the nose or a mask over the mouth may help keep your body oxygenated while you sleep.
Breathing Devices – The CPAP or BiPAP devices used as treatment for obstructive sleep apnea can also help if you have central sleep apnea. Another device that can help with breathing is the adaptive servo-ventilation system (ASV). This devise learns your normal breathing pattern and stores the information in a built-in computer. While you sleep, the ASV uses pressure to maintain your normal breathing. This device has been approved for treatment of central sleep apnea, but it is still being studied.
Treating Complex Sleep Apnea
Since complex or mixed sleep apnea shares risk factors of both obstructive and central sleep apnea, treatment for this type of sleep apnea varies from patient to patient, using a combination of treatments from both other types.