Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person’s breathing stops and starts. It is a potentially serious because sudden drops in the levels of oxygen in your blood can increase blood pressure and strain your cardiovascular system. It can also increase the risk of stroke. Sleep apnea can also cause daytime fatigue and as well as disturb those around you causing them to become sleep-deprived.
Types of sleep apnea
- Obstructive sleep apnea – a common condition that occurs when throat muscles relax.
- Central sleep apnea – occurs when muscles that control breathing do not receive the proper signals from the brain.
- Complex sleep apnea – is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea treatments
When sleep apnea is suspected a physician can provide the appropriate tests and recommendations to treat the condition. Treatments include:
Lifestyle changes. For mild cases of sleep apnea, changes that include weight loss and the cessation of smoking can provide significant benefit.
Moderate to severe cases
CPAP (Continuous positive airway pressure). Utilizes a machine that supplies air pressure through a mask that is placed over your nose while you sleep. This opens up upper airway passages to eliminate snoring and the accompanying stopping and starting of breathing that interrupts sleep.
BiPAP. This is similar to CPAP but differs in that it uses a continuous positive airway pressure device to automatically adjust the inhaling and exhaling pressure while you are sleeping. Like CPAP, wearing a mask for sleeping is required.
Oral appliances. These are designed to keep your throat open by moving your jaw forward to alleviate snoring and some apnea.
Surgery. Surgery can be performed to remove tissue that vibrates causing snoring or to remove blockages that impede breathing. Procedures can include:
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). This procedure removes tissue from the rear of the mouth and the top of the throat. Tonsils and adenoids can also be removed during this procedure. This surgery may be successful in stopping the structures in the throat from vibrating eliminating snoring. However, tissue farther down your throat may still block your air passage.
- Maxillomandibular advancement. This procedure includes removing upper and lower parts of the jaw to enlarge the space behind the tongue and soft palate moving the jaw forward. This complex procedure can reduce the possibility of an obstruction and may require both an oral surgeon as well as an orthodontist.
- Tracheostomy. You may need this form of surgery if other treatments have failed and if you have severe sleep apnea. In this procedure, an opening is made in your neck and a tube is inserted through which you breathe. The opening is kept covered during the day but uncovered at night to permit breathing without obstruction.
- Tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy. These procedures can be performed to remove enlarged tonsils or adenoids and may reduce the snoring that contributes to or causes sleep apnea.
- Nasal surgery. This surgery is used to remove polyps or to straighten nasal passages (deviated septum). It can help to improve breathing and contribute to the treatment of sleep apnea.
Central and complex sleep apnea treatments
- Existing medical conditions. Better management of existing medical conditions that include heart or neuromuscular disorders.
- Supplemental oxygen. Supplemental oxygen in various forms as well as different devices to deliver it is available to deliver additional oxygen to your lungs and may help with sleep apnea.
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This is the same approach used for obstructive sleep apnea and involves the use of a mask to deliver pressurized air to keep your airway from collapsing.
- Bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP). This approach regulates the air pressure between breathing and exhaling and is like that used for obstructive sleep apnea.
- Adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV). This more recently approved airflow device learns your normal breathing pattern and stores the information in a built-in computer. After you fall asleep, the machine uses pressure to normalize your breathing pattern to prevent pauses in breathing. ASV may be more successful than CPAP in treating central sleep apnea, however, more study is needed.