If you or a loved one think that you may have a sleeping disorder, your doctor can arrange a screening test to begin to evaluate the problem. Treatments include:
CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure)
The most common effective treatment for sleep apnea, this therapy uses a light mask placed over the nose during sleep. A small fan blows air through the nasal passages to keep the upper airway from collapsing and allows for more normal breathing and sleep. Air pressure is adjusted so it is just enough to keep the airway open. Some CPAP units start with a very low pressure and gradually increase it to allow the user to fall asleep prior to reaching the full-prescribed pressure. Also, some CPAP units can vary the pressure to coincide with the user's breathing pattern (Bi-PAP).
Some sleep apnea patients can benefit from using an appliance worn in the mouth during sleep. It is designed to bring the jaw, tongue and soft palate forward in order to keep the upper airway open.
Behavioral changes are an important part of the treatment program, and in mild cases of sleep apnea may be all that is required. Alcohol, tobacco and sleeping pills, which may make the airway more likely to close during sleep, should be avoided. Weight loss can be a very effective way of reducing the amount and severity of sleep apnea. In some people sleep apnea only occurs while sleeping on the back. Use of pillows and other devices that help them sleep on their side can be quite helpful.
Physical structures that may interfere with normal breathing during sleep can sometimes be corrected surgically. Common procedures include removal of enlarged tonsils and adenoids (especially in children), nasal polyps or other growths or tissues, and correction of deviated nasal septums. Additional surgical options include:
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) - removes excess tissues at the back of the throat including tonsils, uvula, and part of the soft palate.
- Laser Assisted Uvuloplasty (LAUP) uses a laser device to remove tissue in the back of the throat. LAUP has not been shown to be effective in treating sleep apnea, but is used to reduce or eliminate snoring.
- Tracheostomy is used in the most severe, life-threatening cases of sleep apnea. This procedure creates an external opening in the windpipe to enable air to flow directly into the lungs, bypassing any upper airway obstruction. This opening is plugged while the subject is awake, but is opened during sleep. Although highly effective, it is rarely used.
- Maxilomandibular Advancement: surgical correction for deformities of the lower jaw.
- Surgical Treatment for Severe Obesity can be used for cases of severe sleep apnea in patients who are morbidly obese. Visit Providence Medical Group's Bariatric Services to learn more about weight-loss surgery.