Methods for Treating Sleep Apnea Disorder

A common sleep disorder that often goes undiagnosed is that of sleep apnea, which can have a severe impact on your general health if left untreated. If your sleeping partner tells you that you are snoring loudly, tossing and turning during sleep or you find yourself waking up with a headache, then it may be time to be tested for sleep apnea.

Treating sleep apnea is surprisingly simple and painless, but many patients frequently fail to follow the advice of their doctor. This decision is one that can prove dangerous - even deadly. Read to discover the treatments that doctors typically advocate and how they can simply become a part of your life.

There are four basic approaches to apnea treatment, and they can be used in conjunction with one another. The simplest method involves changing the circumstances, which may be causing the condition. The patient is advised to lose weight, quit smoking, avoid alcohol and sedative drugs, have a regular sleep schedule and try to sleep only on their side.

The most common treatment option is using Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) in the upper airway to support and hold the airway open. This involves wearing a CPAP mask over the nose. The mask provides a supply of continuously flowing air via a flexible plastic hose from a CPAP machine. Studies have shown that when patients use CPAP, they not only slept better and were more alert during the day, but there were significant improvements in the size, shape and pumping action of their hearts.

The third apnea treatment option is the use of a dental splint to prevent the jaw and tongue from moving back and narrowing the airway. However, oral devices have not proved to be as effective as CPAP and the appliances can be uncomfortable.

The fourth and extreme form of treatment is surgery. This kind of procedure involves removal of the part of the soft palate that hangs down in the back of the throat, as well as the tonsils if present, and other soft tissue if it is felt to be excessive. This procedure is usually reserved for patients with severe sleep apnea.

The toughest challenge in treating sleep apnea is getting the patient to comply. Because they often find the CPAP device cumbersome, many patients do not use it consistently or for long enough periods while sleeping. Researchers have found that improvements were maximized after 7.5 hours of use each night. Patients who actively pursued treatment reported better sleep, fewer morning headaches, a better performance on the job and improved mood. The lifestyle modifications are also a great benefit. Losing weight, drinking in moderation and quitting smoking all improve your overall health.

Along with these methods for treating sleep apnea, there is research being done on other techniques and tools like implants. However, while a number of medical devices and procedures have received FDA clearance, sleep doctors are not currently recommending them because there is not yet enough evidence to support their use. It is best to go with your doctor's recommendations and stay informed about advances in treatments becoming available.