Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treatment Options

A sleep study test is used to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea.
A sleep study test is used to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea. | Source

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) Diagnosis and Treatments

Sleep apnea is a common problem. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that it affects as many as 18 million Americans. Unfortunately, many people have this condition without even knowing it.

Sleep apnea is a condition in which you stop breathing for short periods of time while you sleep. It is important to treat it, because it can lead to many issues, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, memory problems, weight gain, impotence, and headaches, diabetes, depression, and other ailments. It can make you sleepy during the day, and put you at risk of auto accidents if you fall asleep behind the wheel, and reduce your effectiveness on the job.

If you suspect that you may have it, it is important for you to see a doctor. After discussing your symptoms, you will likely be asked to take a sleep study.

Who Gets Sleep Apnea?

While anyone can get sleep apnea, you are more likely to get it if you are:

  • male
  • African-American or Hispanic
  • overweight or obese
  • over the age of 40

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

  • loud snoring, especially inconsistent
  • waking up tired
  • disturbed sleep
  • persistent daytime sleepiness
  • persistently feeling tired or fatigued
  • trouble concentrating
  • irritability
  • awakening out of breath during the night
  • waking in the morning with a dry mouth or a headache

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

In order to diagnose whether you stop breathing when you sleep, you need to be watched while you sleep. A sleep study does just that. This study generally takes place in a sleep lab, but home studies are also becoming available.

The lab will hook you up with many electrodes to measure your sleeping position and brain activity. There will be a microphone to measure the loudness of your snoring, and an oxygen sensor to check your oxygen levels. While it may be difficult to fall asleep with all the wires, eventually you will be able to sleep.

Your activity will be measured throughout the night. The lab technician will report, among other things, how long it took for you to fall asleep, how much sleep you got, whether you snored, and how often and how long you stopped breathing. This information will be passed on to the doctor who will then make the official diagnosis.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed. In obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), there is a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes during sleep. In central sleep apnea, the airway is not blocked but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe. Mixed apnea is a combination of the two.

The person with any type of sleep apnea will stop breathing, which will cause him to wake up. If this happens frequently, the person will not get a restful sleep, and will wind up feeling sleepy during the day.

Home Remedies to Treat Sleep Apnea

If you do have sleep apnea, it is important that you work with your doctor to make sure that your method of treatment is working. Here are some things you can do at home to treat it.

In mild cases, sleeping on your side helps reduce the obstruction of your airway. If you cannot get used to sleeping on your side, there is a pillow you attach to your back that makes it uncomfortable for you to sleep on your back.

Losing weight may be able to reduce the obstruction. It may be difficult for you to lose weight though, because sleep apnea does increase weight gain.

The usual remedies to live healthy are recommended, such as stop smoking, and avoid drinking alcohol or eating close to bedtime.

An inclined pillow, such as the wedge in the Amazon capsule, has brought some comfort to people who have mild sleep apnea, and also works for "snoring, acid reflux, gerd, gastroesophageal reflux, heartburn, indigestion, hiatus hernia, back & neck pains, sinus or general problems while in the flat bed position" according to the description.

Other pillows are also recommended for sleep apnea. The Sona pillow is designed for people who sleep on their side, and according to their video, has been tested and works to reduce snoring and mild sleep apnea.

Nose dilators, like the ones shown in the Amazon capsule, may be able to provide relief for people who snore through their mouth because they cannot get enough air through their nose. This will reduce snoring, and may help OSA as well.

Air is delivered through the CPAP machine into a person's airways through a mask.
Air is delivered through the CPAP machine into a person's airways through a mask. | Source

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

Most doctors recommend positive airway pressure to keep the airway clear. There are several types of machines that provide positive airway pressure, such as the BiPAP (bil-evel positive airway pressure), and the VPAP (variable positive airway pressure). The most common treatment for sleep apnea is the CPAP. With this method, air is continually delivered to the airway, keeping the airway from collapsing.

In order to determine the level of pressure that needs to be provided, a second sleep study may need to be performed. In this study, the electrodes and other monitoring devices are used as in the previous study, but the CPAP is also used. The level of pressure is adjusted throughout the night until the optimum level is found. This level can only be adjusted with doctor's approval.

Many of these devices come with a humidifier to keep the air that is delivered from becoming too dry. The level of the humidity is adjustable, so that the user can increase the humidity when they feel that their throat is becoming too dry, and can decrease the humidity if they get nasal congestion.

Nasal marks are one of the three main types of face masks that are used to treat sleep apnea.
Nasal marks are one of the three main types of face masks that are used to treat sleep apnea. | Source

Face Mask Options for CPAP Machine

There are three types of options for face masks: the full face mask, the nasal mask, and nasal pillows. Most of the masks have a harder body and a softer silicone part, which touches the face of the wearer.

Within these three types of masks, there are a variety of options, sizes, and manufacturers to find a one that will be just right for you. The masks are adjustable, so be sure to adjust it to the size that is comfortable and provides a good seal. Comfort is a key factor, of course, since you will be using it every night. When you are choosing your mask, you want to make sure that the fit is right, so that it will provide a proper seal, so that the mask can function properly and quietly.

Full face Mask

The full face mask covers both the nose and the mouth, with side straps that attach it to your face. It is helpful for people who snore through their mouths or talk in their sleep. This mask is the most secure, making it beneficial for restless sleepers. It provides the most consistent amount of pressure, and is best to use if you need a lot of pressure. It is easier to breathe through, and especially appropriate for people who sleep on their backs.

Nasal Mask

The nasal mask is a triangular shaped mask that covers the nose only. The side straps keep it in place. It covers less of your face, so it may be more comfortable, especially for people who feel claustrophobic, and will make sleeping on your side more comfortable than the full face mask. If you snore with your mouth, there is a chin strap that is used to keep your mouth closed.

Nasal Pillows

Nasal pillows are not technically masks, but work in the same way. The air is delivered into your nostrils using two silicone pieces that are held in place with a strap around your head. This is the most popular option because they are small and tend to be more comfortable for most people. There is space to wear glasses for watching TV or reading. With this option, however, talking is uncomfortable. If you snore with your mouth, there is a chin strap that is used to keep your mouth closed.

Comparison of Face Mask Options for CPAP Machine

 
Mouth Breathers
Talking in Your sleep
Sleep on side
Sleep on back
Better vision for watching TV or reading
Restless Sleeper
Good for high pressure levels
Full Face Mask
X
X
 
X
 
X
X
Nasal Mask
 
 
X
X
X
X
X
Nasal Pillows
 
 
X
X
X
 
 

Other Treatment Options

The doctor can also prescribe Provent Therapy to create Expiratory Positive Airway Pressure (EPAP) to hold the airway open and enable natural airflow. It is a disposable, nightly-use nasal device placed just inside the nostrils and held securely in place with hypoallergenic adhesive. Their website states that it works in approximately 50% of people who use it.

A dentist can provide an appliance that you put in your mouth while you sleep. This provides more space for your airway by moving your jaw forward. This will stop the snoring, but it is important to verify that it also is helping the sleep apnea as well.


If these options don't work for you, there are also several different types of surgeries that can be performed. Surgeries are successful for snoring, but may not be as successful for sleep apnea.

Living with Obstructive Sleep Apnea

It can be a vicious circle with people with this condition. They want to exercise and eat healthy, but their lack of sleep makes it difficult for them to have the energy to go out and move, and their tiredness makes them want to eat more. They become obese and this creates an obstruction in their airway, making it harder to get a good night's rest.

It is very important to get this condition diagnosed and treated. Even though sleeping with a mask on sounds like it wouldn't be very comfortable, but over time, you will get accustomed to it. The difference in the quality of your life, as you are able to concentrate and stay alert, may be life changing.

© 2012 Shasta Matova

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Comments 21 comments

Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 3 years ago from USA Author

Thanks cat on a soapbox. I hope your husband finds a mask that is is more comfortable for him. It will help both of you rest better knowing he is healthier and without the snoring.


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 3 years ago from Los Angeles

Hello Millionaire Tips.

What a great article! I finally get to see the options with the pros and cons- THANK YOU! I will share this one with my husband who suffers from OSA. He just couldn't handle the face mask. Voted up!


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 3 years ago from USA Author

Thanks onlygrace! I am glad you found it helpful.


onlygrace profile image

onlygrace 3 years ago

Wow, you get very comprehensive article here. Thanks for sharing about this. It helps me a lot


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thanks Dianna. I do try to be make sure that my articles are useful.

Thanks dontaytte, I am sure your review brings this important condition to everyone's attention.

Thanks Aurelio, I am glad that your family members have avoided this condition. The CPAP machine, the most common treatment, may look terrible, but eventually people do get used to sleeping with it.

Thanks midget38. That's true, it does help to have someone tell you that you snore unevenly and stop breathing in your sleep. If you have the symptoms of tiredness, etc., it is worth checking out.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thanks Austinstar, I am glad that you have found relief using the mask. I wish you the best with the gout.

Thanks Vespa, sleep apnea can affect anyone, even people who are not overweight, and even children. There are many things that can obstruct the airway, like large tonsils.

Thanks samnashy, glad to help.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thanks Little two two, I will add it to the list. I did not know about this option.


midget38 profile image

midget38 4 years ago from Singapore

A very important hub, Millionaire Tips! This is a condition which really requires support, especially in its diagnosis, because you can't really tell if you snore unless someone tells you. Thanks for the suggestions for treatment options as well. I share this as well.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

Fortunately, none of us at home have this condition. Because it looks like some of those cures are worse than the disease. Voting this Up and Interesting. SHARED.


dontaytte profile image

dontaytte 4 years ago from Palos Hills

Great hub, I recently posted a hub review of CPAP machines.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Well done! I am always impressed with your posts and how much information you provide. The charts are great. Voted up and across.


samnashy profile image

samnashy 4 years ago from Australia

Great hub, lots of useful information.


vespawoolf profile image

vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

This is a very useful and interesting analysis of sleep apnea. I used to think it was a health condition of the overweight, but we have a thin friend who suffers from this issue and uses a machine. I now realize what a serious issue it is and how it impacts the lives of those who suffer from it. Thank you for sharing this helpful information...I hope it helps many to find a diagnosis.


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

It took a long time and a lot of Vicodin to get used to sleeping with my mask, but I finally did it. It's been five years now and I am losing weight, off the Vicodin and doing well.

Now if I could just control this horrible gout!


Little two two profile image

Little two two 4 years ago from Canada

You should add a spot here for a newer device called provent. It is two small plugs that go over your nose and they do what the mask does by creating a pressure. No machines, masks or anything. And they really do work, relatively cheap.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thanks Pamela, the nasal pillows are more comfortable since they are smaller, although they may be a little bit harder to get a snug fit, and can therefore be a bit more noisy.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thank you hawaiianodysseus. I am glad you were able to find a quiet system and a comfortable mask. Your real life experience is very appreciated.

Thanks Vellur, many people don't know about this issue that affects so many people, although it is slowly getting the attention that it needs. The manufacturers have found that it is profitable and are now marketing to doctors.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States

This is a very thorough hub on sleep apnea as I think many people are not aware of how serious it can be. You covered the topic extremely well. The nasal pillows do sound a lot more comfortable as I know many people hate the mask. Thanks for such an informative hub. Voted up and very useful.


Vellur profile image

Vellur 4 years ago from Dubai

Never knew about this, thanks for sharing.


hawaiianodysseus profile image

hawaiianodysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

I make diligent use of my CPAP machine. Used to wear a mask, but have recently converted to the nasal pillows. You're absolutely right--so much more enjoyable and definitely less intrusive. The new machine I have also seems quieter. Doesn't keep my wife awake.

Thank you for writing about this subject. I, for one, offer my testimony that the CPAP machine is a lifesaver as well as a godsend to spouses who would otherwise never have a good night's sleep.


Thallia profile image

Thallia 4 years ago from West Coast, U.S.A.

Interesting topic! Is this one of the "Exclusive" titles? Either way, it's very informative. You did a great job with it... lots of research and nicely written. Thumbs up and very useful!

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