Sleep apnea affects more than 20 million Americans and is a severe and dangerous condition. It causes your breathing to stop periodically while you sleep. It's marked by disrupted breathing, fragmented sleep, and a decreased oxygen level in your body. If left untreated, it can have significant health consequences like heart attacks and high blood pressure.
There are two types of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA):
Obstructive sleep apnea happens in instances where the throat muscles relax while we're asleep —causing the throats to narrow, sometimes completely closing off the airway supply. When an episode like this begins, blood pressure shoots up as oxygen levels dip dramatically low because there isn't any more airflow coming from outside.
Central Sleep Apnea occurs when someone doesn't breathe due to instability within the respiratory control center. This might lead to suffocation because they cannot get enough oxygen either through inhaling or exhaling. Central sleep apnea is most often caused by some kind of dysfunction with one's neural system. Meaning, an issue stemming from something deeper than having trouble getting rid of mucus blocking the airway.
Fortunately, sleep apnea treatment has come a long way in recent years. There are now many different options for those suffering from this disorder. This post will explore the various treatments available for people with sleep apnea as well as the devices that can help treat it.
Self Treatment Options For Sleep Apnea
The increased risk of airway obstruction in obese patients has caused many doctors to recommend weight loss as a treatment for sleep apnea. This is especially because sleep apnea has been found to be more severe and harder to treat in obese patients. Over 40% of obese individuals likely have sleep apnea and 70% of OSA patients are obese.
Losing weight not only helps you feel better and look more attractive, but it can also help your breathing. Research shows that just by slimming down some (and maybe exercising) an overweight person helps to clear the airways. It might be all the therapy an obese person needs to enjoy quality sleep eliminating the need of using treatment devices or surgery.
While weight loss can help to eliminate sleep apnea, it's important to keep maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This helps avoid regaining the weight and possibly relapse of the condition.
Change sleep position
More than half of obstructive sleep apnea cases are dependent on the positioning. Sleep positions like side-sleeping, belly sleeping, and back sleeping can all make a difference in how well you breathe at night—more so when it comes to weight distribution across body parts.
Read More about positions to sleep with sleep apnea in our recent article here.
Use a humidifier
Essential oils are best known to help relax the body and mind and reduce snoring. They are known to have anti-inflammatory properties as well as soothing qualities that can help you sleep better at night.
Dry air can irritate the body and respiratory system. But, using a humidifier can open your airways, decrease congestion, and encourage clearer breathing. For even more benefits, you should consider adding lavender, eucalyptus, or peppermint oils.
It's important to point out that there's little medical evidence supporting the use of essential oils only in treating sleep apnea. Despite using the oils, if your sleep apnea goes untreated over a long period, you will likely continue to snore.
Some of the best essential oils for sleep apnea include:
- Thyme (rubbed on feet is supposed to reduce snoring)
TIP: For individuals who snore due to congestion, minty types of oils (such as the eucalyptus, peppermint, and clove) help to break up phlegm and mucus that could be the cause of your snoring.
Reduce alcohol consumption & Stop smoking
Drinking alcohol relaxes throat muscles which control breathing, leading to symptoms like snoring and interrupted sleep cycles. On the other hand, cigarette smoke contributes to airway swelling. This could cause airway congestion that could worsen your sleep patterns and increase frequency of obstructive respiratory events (sleep apnea).
If you're looking to improve your sleep and eventually get rid of sleep apnea, it helps to quit smoking and limit the amount of alcohol that you consume. You might not think about what you do every day influencing your overall health, but the truth is that it plays an important role in everything from sleeping habits to general wellness.
Simple lifestyle changes such as abstaining from alcohol and smoking may be a good first step in getting healthier!
Mouth and Throat Exercises
When we fall asleep, our body muscles relax. This includes the muscle behind your tongue, which can become floppy and get in the airway causing tissues to vibrate. This leads to sleep issues like snoring or obstructive sleep apnea.
Technically known as myofunctional therapy and/or oropharyngeal exercises, mouth and throat muscle exercise done a few times every day can help to prevent sleep apnea. Doing this exercise is low-risk and has no side effects or costs involved, making it a great inclusion in sleep apnea treatment plans.
Boost your vitamins
Vitamin deficiencies can affect sleep. While there are multi-vitamins available that have the recommended daily allowance, most of the essential vitamins and minerals, additional vitamins that can help.
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
Researchers have found Vitamin D deficiency to be very common among sufferers of OSA.
Sleep Apnea Treatment Devices
Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) Devices
A core component of treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) involves airway pressure devices known as PAP( positive airway pressure) device.
The use of a PAP machine is an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. PAP devices work by pumping pressurized air through the mouth and into the throat to prevent airway collapse from occurring while sleeping. This prevents fragmented breathing patterns as well as snoring episodes that may have been otherwise disruptive.
NOTE: Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) therapy prevents airway closure while in use, but apnea episodes might return when PAP is stopped or if it's used improperly.
There are several styles of these PAP devices depending on the specific needs of patients:
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Device
Continuous positive airway pressure provides pressure to the airway. It gives you better sleep quality with fewer interruptions from snoring or apnea events. It is the most popular form of treatment device for therapy on an ongoing basis as in most cases, it doesn't require surgery.
It also has benefits for those who have occasional breathing trouble due to congestion caused by colds, allergies, or other issues that make getting restful sleep more difficult because they cause difficulty in maintaining oxygen levels during deep sleep cycles.
How It Works
The device guarantees that there's a continuous distribution od nasal airflow over your throat. It prevents any blockages that would otherwise lead to fatigue throughout the day and daytime drowsiness and headaches.
Bi-Level PAP is a type of treatment for sleep apnea that features two pressures. One pressure (high) occurs when the person inhales, and another low pressure happens on exhale. There are specific requirements one must meet if you are using an insurance cover:
For this to be covered by insurance, the patient must have tried CPAP therapy first with no success before receiving coverage for BiPap therapy.
Auto CPAP + Auto Bi-Level PAP
Both Auto CPAP and Auto Bi-Level PAP machines use a range of pressures that self-regulate during use to provide you with optimal pressure. This is done using an internal sensor that detects your need for airflow based on changes in breathing patterns or other factors, such as sleep position.
Adaptive Servo-Ventilation (ASV)
ASV is a type of non-invasive ventilation that helps to keep the airway open and delivers mandatory breaths when needed. It's mostly used for patients with central sleep apnea, who are at an increased risk for sudden cardiac arrest due to decreased oxygen levels in their blood while sleeping.
NOTE: You need a prescription in order to use any PAP machine, and the pressure settings are pre-set based on measurements taken by your health care team.
Nasal dilators like Breathe Right Strips can help open the nostrils and sides of your nose, making it easier to breathe and reduce snoring. However, while they might improve your sleep, they do not treat sleep apnea – they only relieve the symptoms. This could give you a false sense of confidence and trick you into not receiving the proper treatment for sleep apnea.
As an alternative treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), oral appliances are a great way to treat sleep apnea. There are two major types of oral appliances: mandibular advancement devices and tongue stabilizing devices, which work by moving your lower jaw or tongue forward to reduce the obstruction in the back of your throat that can cause it.
These mouthpieces could reposition either your lower jaw or just keep a hold of something else as well-your upper teeth, palate muscles, etcetera.
There are two types of oral appliances:
Mandibular advancement devices (MADs)
Mandibular advancement devices have been shown to reduce OSA. They are essentially mouthguards that work by keeping the lower jaw pulled forward so it can't constrict your airway.
Although they are primarily associated with sleep apnea, these oral appliances also help with chronic snoring and sleep-related bruxism (teeth grinding), both of which are associated with more severe obstructive sleep apnea cases.
The VitalSleep Mouthpiece is one of the best and customizable MAD that offers a more personalized experience.
The mouthguard uses boil-and-bite technology. The device has two parts: one for the lower jaw and another to shape around teeth and gums. With these adjustable features, you can custom mold your VitalSleep by boiling it to match your dental structure before biting down on the softer outer material with your own bite marks in order to make sure the size fits perfectly.
How To Use
Boil your sleep apnea mouthguard, then bite into it before it's cold so that it will be molded perfectly around your unique dental anatomy.
Tongue retaining devices (TRDs)
Also known as tongue stabilizing devices, TRDs help to treat sleep apnea by preventing the tongue from sliding back in your mouth during the night, which can block airflow and lead to disordered breathing.
Tongue Retaining Devices can also be used at home on patients recovering from upper respiratory infections such as colds, flu's, etc. An excellent example of a tongue retaining device is the Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulator.
It is an innovative device that reduces the occurrence of sleep apnea by electrically stimulating the tongue. This stimulation ensures movement and relieves upper airway obstruction, and enables a more comfortable night's rest.
How It Works
An electrode is attached to the main nerve that's responsible for controlling your tongue, called the hypoglossal nerve, and then connected to a device that’s similar to a pacemaker. When you stop breathing in your sleep, it stimulates your tongue's muscles from blocking off your airway.
Surgical Treatments For Obstructive Sleep Apnea
If everything else fails, surgery might be the last option to help improve your nighttime breathing.
However, for adults, surgery is not the first line of treatment for OSA. It's only considered if a patient doesn't improve with other types of therapy like using CPAP or oral appliances. For children, surgical removal of tonsils and adenoids (adenotonsillectomy) is most commonly used as an initial form of treatment for sleep apnea.
Here are a variety of surgeries that might be recommended to you:
A maxillomandibular advancement is a form of facial skeletal surgery that advances the jaws to expand the airway and create more space for the tongue in the oral cavity. Compared to other procedures, it generally provides the most remarkable improvement in treating obstructive sleep apnea. However, it's a little more invasive and expensive. The cost can range anywhere from $5,000 to-10,000.
The Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty is a procedure used to remove and remodel tissues in the throat. This could be because of sleep issues or other medical complications that are causing pain, discomfort, and difficulty breathing while sleeping. Tissues that may typically need removal include tonsils and adenoids.
Also known by the abbreviations UPPP and UP3, Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty is usually only done if you can’t use a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure CPAP machine or other obstructive sleep apnea devices and tends to be mainly for snoring treatment.
Radiofrequency Ablation (volumetric tissue reduction)
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is the modern way to treat people who struggle with obstructive sleep apnea. With a special non-invasive device, physicians direct small bursts of radiofrequency heat energy into the muscle to produce scarring.
The body then starts its natural healing causing the tissue to shrink and tighten, opening up more of your airway during sleep. For you to achieve desired results, you might require multiple treatments. The main benefits of RFA are:
- It's human-safe and non-invasive.
- It generally has fewer potential risks compared to invasive surgical procedures.
- Less overall discomfort. You will probably only suffer a sore throat.
In some people, the tongue might be positioned posteriorly in the mouth, which obstructs the airways, causing snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The genioglossus advancement surgical treatment pulls the genioglossus muscle forward to reposition them. This expands the airway resulting in increased airflow to the body.
While this is a relatively easy adjustment that helps prevent your tongue from rolling back and interfering with your breathing - it's usually done alongside other procedures and treatments.
The genioglossus muscle is an extrinsic tongue muscle that forms the majority of your tongue. It plays a crucial role in maintaining upper airway patency, and it's responsible for protruding your tongue to make sure you can breathe properly.
Turbinate Reduction Surgery
Turbinate reduction surgery is a procedure performed to correct nasal obstruction by reducing the turbinate size while preserving their natural function. This might help to reduce snoring and improve the quality of sleep and breathing for those with apnea.
Lingual tonsillectomy is surgery to remove the bulk of a person's lingual tonsils as well as tonsillar tissue. This procedure is done under general anesthesia and without any external incisions. It enlarges the airway behind the tongue and makes it easy to breathe for people with snoring a problem and obstructive sleep apnea.
Lingual Tonsillectomy has primarily been found to be effective at reducing apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), especially in children who have not responded to traditional treatments for obstructive sleep apnea.
Positive airway pressure (cpap), and other treatment devices are the most common standard treatments, but they're not always enough or successful. But before you try another medication, it's best to give these treatments a try for at least three months - as long as your doctor approves, of course.
If you have tried the basic noninvasive and less invasive options and haven't been successful, ask your doctor about other options like surgery. However, it's always recommended to start with improving your lifestyle. So, it's best to start with simple remedies with fewer risks that you can do at home, such as losing weight, dieting, and exercise - quitting smoking, among other home remedies.
Sleep Apnea Treatments FAQ's: Answered.
Can losing weight cure sleep apnea?
Weight loss has been shown to reduce the severity of symptoms associated with this condition and other health problems. A study by Harvard Health found that losing just 10 percent of body weight can significantly help those suffering from severe obstructive sleep apnea. In some cases, it may even be able to cure the problem completely.
Can A Fitbit tell you if you have sleep apnea?
Fitbit has recently developed a way to monitor your sleeping patterns based on motion and other technological advances. They can now provide information such as oxygen in the body, position, respiratory effort, airflow, or cardiovascular system information when you sleep with the wearables.
So yes, Fitbit can provide information to help doctors diagnose sleep apnea and monitor your rest. Doctors are now able to view the data from these devices that FitBit customers have been recording, which then helps them determine if you are a candidate for sleep testing or not.
Can honey help with sleep apnea?
Honey is an effective natural remedy for cases of snoring related to inflammation. While it won't cure sleep apnea, a teaspoon can help reduce symptoms such as irritation and soreness in the throat caused by inflamed tissues when one experiences these sorts of issues.
Can Benadryl help sleep apnea?
No, it doesn't. In fact, if you suffer from sleep apnea and use Benadryl, your symptoms may worsen. This is because the medication contains muscle relaxants that make the throat muscles too relaxed causing an airway blockage. It will be especially hard for those with sleep apnea problems to get a good night's rest.
Does melatonin help sleep apnea?
Yes. Melatonin is a natural hormone that induces sleep. It has shown to be effective in helping with sleep apnea. It is available without a prescription in most pharmacies as a dietary supplement. But, it can have side effects and may not interact with certain medications. Consult with your doctor before taking any medication.
Does sitting up help sleep apnea?
Yes. Elevating your head (Head of Bed Elevation, also known as HOBE) has shown to be effective in helping with snoring. However, trying to sleep comfortably while sitting up can cause neck, shoulder, and back problems.
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