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Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treatment Options

Updated on September 20, 2018
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Shasta Matova is a middle aged woman who writes about her experiences. She has no medical training aside from personal research.

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.

Sleep On Your Side

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.

Maintain Healthy Weight

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.

Avoid Alcohol, Caffeine, Smoking and Sedatives

Take care of your lungs by avoiding pollution and stop smoking.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Eating a healthy diet, and avoiding eating close to bedtime will help avoid acid reflux which can affect sleep apnea. You can support your metabolism with protein, healthy fat and fiber.

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
Nasal Mask
Nasal Pillows

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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