Waking up gasping for breath, irregular breathing during sleep, and feeling excessively sleepy during the day are all symptoms of sleep apnea, a common disorder that affects millions of people around the world. Left untreated, the condition is also linked to a greater risk of developing other serious medical conditions.
Although several different sleep apnea treatments are available, knowing which one is the most effective for you can be challenging. And before considering treatment, it’s important to have a formal sleep study performed at a sleep clinic to get an accurate diagnosis. Some people believe that chronic snoring means they have sleep apnea. Snoring is a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, but snoring alone doesn’t mean you have sleep apnea.
Once you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea, you can discuss treatment options with an ear, nose, and throat specialist. These include medical devices, surgery, and lifestyle changes. Treating sleep apnea not only improves your health but also enhances the quality of your life.
In this blog post, I’ll describe the different sleep apnea treatment options available at our ENT practice in Anchorage.
Sleep Apnea Treatment Options
Determining which treatment is best for you requires knowing the type of sleep apnea you’ve been diagnosed with. There are two different types of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA). OSA is far more common than CSA and will be the focus of this post.
Common OSA treatments include:
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP): This is the most common sleep apnea treatment and has typically been considered the gold standard for people diagnosed with OSA. It involves sending a constant stream of air into a sleeper’s airway to keep it from collapsing. A small machine hooked to a specially fitted mask worn while you’re sleeping pumps the air at a pressure calibrated by an ENT specialist to be effective for you. The machine collects, filters, and pressurizes air from your room before sending it through the hose and into your airway.
Modified forms of positive airway pressure treatments are available for patients who are uncomfortable with CPAP treatments.
Inspire: If you have moderate to severe OSA and struggle with CPAP, Inspire may be an option for you. It’s a small device that’s surgically implanted under the skin in the chest. It works by delivering mild stimulation to the hypoglossal nerve, which controls the tongue and other muscles in the throat that can obstruct the airway during sleep.
A small remote control is used to turn the device on and off. Once the device is implanted, your doctor will work with you to fine-tune the settings to meet your individual needs. This involves adjusting the stimulation level and timing to ensure that the device is providing optimal results.
Septoplasty: People with severe sleep apnea or those who don’t see improvement after trying CPAP or other treatments may undergo surgery if their nasal airways are obstructed. A deviated, or crooked, septum that obstructs the airway can cause snoring and sleep apnea. Septoplasty straightens the septum and unblocks the airway. Another surgical procedure, turbinate reduction surgery, may be necessary for people with an enlarged turbinate–a bony structure that can cause nasal congestion if it becomes too large.
Adenoidectomy: if you have swollen adenoids and tonsils that block your airway during sleep, an adenoidectomy, often combined with a tonsillectomy, can help resolve sleep apnea. This is often the first choice of treatment for children with sleep apnea.
Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP): Surgically repositioning or removing soft tissue at the back of the throat is an option for patients with moderate obstructive sleep apnea who find wearing the CPAP mask uncomfortable. The tissue includes all or part of the uvula, which is a soft flap of tissue that hangs at the back of the mouth where the soft palate ends. A swollen or enlarged uvula is a frequent cause of airway obstruction.
Lifestyle Changes to Make if You Have Sleep Apnea
In addition to treating sleep apnea with medical devices or surgery, certain lifestyle changes can reduce your symptoms. These include:
- Exercising regularly: In many cases, people who suffer from sleep apnea are overweight. Losing excess weight is associated with numerous health benefits in addition to reducing sleep apnea symptoms.
- Sleeping on your side: If you sleep on your back, it’s likely making your sleep apnea worse. We recommend sleeping on your side to improve your symptoms. Try positioning pillows to help prevent you from rolling onto your back while you sleep.
- Reducing alcohol consumption: This is especially important at night. Alcohol makes you sleepier than normal, which worsens airway obstruction while you sleep.
- Quitting smoking: Smoking irritates and swells the airway, making it more difficult to breathe during sleep.
- Avoiding certain medications: Certain drugs can directly or indirectly worsen sleep apnea symptoms. Sedatives, such as benzodiazepines, should be avoided if you have sleep apnea. However, you should consult with your doctor before stopping any medications.
A more active, healthy lifestyle comes with multiple benefits besides improving sleep apnea. Even if you treat your sleep disorder with surgery or positive airway pressure devices, we recommend combining these treatments with lifestyle changes.
If you believe you have sleep apnea, or have been diagnosed through a sleep study, and want to learn more about your treatment options at ACENT (Alaska Center for Ear, Nose, and Throat), request a consultation using the online form or call us at (907) 279-8800 to schedule an appointment.