Sleep apnea is the term used for pauses in a person’s breathing while asleep. This cessation of breathing can last from 10 seconds to more than a minute and can occur many times during the sleep cycle. People with sleep apnea often seek treatment for snoring.
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea. Its symptoms are due to a partial or complete block in the upper airway. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) masks are among the most common treatment options.
Central sleep apnea is much less common. Its symptoms are caused by the brain sending wrong messages to the breathing muscles. Snoring is rare and masks and devices for treating it differ from the CPAP masks used in the obstructive form.
Complex sleep apnea is a mixture of the above two.
Symptoms of sleep apnea include:
• Snoring: A partially blocked airway can cause loud snoring or constant snoring.
• Pauses in breathing: Lasting from 10 seconds to over a minute, these symptoms can occur more than 30 times per hour.
• Gasping or choking: These symptoms can appear after any pause in breathing.
• Hypersomnia: These symptoms of excessive sleepiness appear during the day. Poor sleep at night may be a cause.
• Insomnia: These symptoms of sleep apnea are most disturbing for sufferers. They are unable to remain asleep due to frequent wakening.
• Mood changes: Symptoms of mood swings, aggressive behavior, depression, or anxiety can result from the lack of restful sleep.
• Headaches in the morning, slow reflexes, memory or learning problems, poor concentration, sore throat or dry mouth and frequently waking to urinate at night are other symptoms of sleep apnea.
Some treatment options possible at home include:
• Weight loss
• Nasal decongestants
• Quit smoking — although not strictly a treatment, it provides great benefits
• Avoid caffeine and heavy meals within two hours of bedtime
• Maintain a regular sleep schedule
• Sleep on your side
• Elevate the head of the bed
• Using a foam wedge to prop up your head while sleeping
• Try throat exercises
Medical treatment options include:
• Masks and breathing devices: Supplemental oxygen is supplied through a mask while sleeping and breathing devices used for the treatment of the underlying medical condition causing sleep apnea.
• CPAP: This is the most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. CPAP is a machine with a mask to provide a constant stream of air that keeps the breathing passages open during sleep and prevents or reduces snoring.
• Provent minimask devices: For patients uncomfortable with the regular CPAP mask and machine or those unable to adjust to the CPAP treatment’s intrusiveness, a product called Provent is available. This fits over the nostrils as a minimask and is smaller than the traditional CPAP machine. However, it is a more expensive treatment option than regular CPAP treatment.
• BPAP or bilevel positive airway pressure masks and devices: These masks and devices are used for patients unable to adjust to CPAP treatment or for central sleep apnea sufferers.
• ASV or adaptive seroventilation devices: These devices are used for treating both types of sleep apnea and the related snoring.
• EPAP or expiratory positive airway pressure: This is the most recent FDA-approved treatment for sleep apnea. This device can be clipped on the nostrils. It works to increase pressure in the airway during exhaling.
• Dental devices: Devices like the mandibular repositioning device and the tongue-retaining device adjust the jaw and tongue and are useful in the treatment of symptoms.
• Surgery: This treatment option is considered if none of the other options work. It may be the last resort as a treatment for sleep apnea and varies based on the patient’s particular requirements.
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