• What Is Sleep Apnea, and How Do You Treat It?

    Sleep Apnea

    Via Wikimedia Commons

    Sleep apnea is often misconstrued as simply snoring. But while snoring can and often does accompany sleep apnea, it is not the same thing. Sleep apnea is a condition that affects the way you breathe at night when sleeping. It is characterized by pauses in breathing that last from about 10 to 20 seconds, and can occur hundreds of times a night. It can disrupt sleep rhythm, resulting in shallow sleep. If apnea is left untreated, it can result in serious problems such as excessive daytime sleepiness, poor work performance and cardiovascular disorders such as hypertension, arrhythmia and even congestive heart failure.

     There are three types of sleep apnea:

    1. Obstructive sleep apnea- this is the most common type, which occurs when the soft tissue at the back of the throat relaxes during sleep and blocks the airway, causing you to snore loudly. This soft tissue can get in the way of breathing.

    2. Central sleep apnea- This is less common as it is a central nervous system problem, where the brain fails to consistently signal the muscles that control breathing, resulting in the pauses. This type often does not involve snoring.

    3. Complex sleep apnea is a combination of the above two types.

    How can you treat sleep apnea?

    A sleep specialist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon can evaluate your symptoms and help you find the most effective option to overcome the problem. Both self-treatment options and help from doctors are available.

    Here are a number of options to consider in correcting sleep apnea:


    • Lose weight. Sometimes losing excess weight can greatly improve and even correct moderate sleep apnea. Just a little weight loss may be enough to open the throat better and improve sleep apnea symptoms.

    • Quit smoking. Smoking contributes to sleep apnea by increasing inflammation and fluid retention in your throat and upper airway. Smoking cessation can lead to improved symptoms.

    • Avoid muscle relaxers. Alcohol, sleeping pills, and sedatives relax the muscles in the throat and interfere with breathing. While they may help you get to sleep, they can increase sleep apnea symptoms, leading to poor-quality rst. For the same reasons, you should avoid caffeine and heavy meals just before bedtime.

    • Maintain regular sleep hours. A consistent sleep schedule will help you relax better and can decrease the episodes of apnea while you sleep.

    Medical treatment

    • Use a dental device. This is like a mouthpiece. Your oral and maxillofacial surgeon may be able to make a device for your to help keep the airways open when you sleep, by keeping the tongue out of the way. Talk to your doctor about potential side effects, and how it may affect the position of your jaws and teeth.

    • Schedule surgery. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are trained to diagnose and treat this condition and have pioneered many of today’s most successful surgical techniques. Depending on the severity and the cause of your sleep apnea, you may want to consider surgery to treat the soft and/or hard tissues. Corrective jaw surgery may also help eliminate sleep apnea.

    • Treat the underlying condition. For central and complex apnea, effective treatment should start with the underlying medical condition causing the apnea, such as heart or neuromuscular disorders. This treatment may involve medications, surgery or other methods. Talk to your doctor to learn more.

    • Use oxygen. You may want to consider using supplemental oxygen while you sleep, to ensure an adequate oxygen supply.

    • CPAP for sleep apnea. A CPAP is a continuous positive airflow pressure machine, and is the most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. It is a mask-like machine that provides a constant stream of air that keeps your breathing passages open while you sleep.

    Because there is no single common cause of sleep apnea, no single treatment will work for everyone. The best treatment for you may be a combination of several of the above items. You should talk to a medical professional to ensure that sleep apnea is truly the cause of your symptoms before taking any steps toward treatment..

    If you think you may have sleep apnea, we invite you to call us at 801-502-0100 to set up an appointment to talk to one of our surgeons.