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Obstructive sleep apnea is a common condition that can increase your risk for a lot of other conditions that you really want to avoid. Complications from sleep apnea can include heart attack, dementia, glaucoma, diabetes, and even some types of cancer. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the best and most reliable treatment for moderate to severe sleep apnea. But, some people are unable to tolerate this device, which is strapped to your head during sleep.
Sleep apnea occurs when your upper airway closes down during sleep, causing brief periods of not breathing, called apnea. When apnea occurs, your fight or flight reflex kicks in causing your blood pressure to go up, your heart to speed up, and you to wake up enough to open your airway.
Symptoms of sleep apnea are noisy breathing or loud snoring at night interrupted by repeated episodes of apnea and gasping for breath. You may wake up with a dry mouth, groggy brain, or a headache. Daytime fatigue, sleepiness, and brain fog are also common symptoms of sleep apnea.
CPAP and Sleep Apnea Treatment Devices
CPAP is a device that is strapped to your head. Air is delivered through a mask placed over or under your nose. The pressure of the air is just enough to keep your airway open. Some people are unable to sleep or adjust to the straps, the mask, the air pressure, or the noise.
There are different types of breathing devices you can try, including auto CPAP and bilevel positive airway pressure (BPAP). These devices may reduce the sensation of pressure or limit it to just when you need it. Adaptive sero-ventilation is a new breathing device that stores information about your apnea in a computer and uses pressure before you have apnea to prevent it.
Another problem with these breathing devices is that they are all machines, so things can go wrong. Recently one brand of breathing device was recalled because the foam used to reduce the noise of the device was breaking down causing a danger of foam particles being breathed into the nose and lungs.
If you have milder sleep apnea, or you can’t tolerate any of the breathing devices, there are many CPAP alternatives. You will need to work with your health care provider to find the best one for you. You may need to see another health care provider like a dentist, oral surgeon, head and neck surgeon, or a physical therapist. The alternatives include:
- Oral Appliances: These appliances are usually fit by a dentist. If your sleep apnea is caused by your jaw or tongue slipping back to block your airway during sleep, an oral appliance might be a sleep apnea solution. A dentist may design an appliance that you fit into your mouth at night to keep your lower jaw or your tongue pushed forward. Some people find an oral appliance less bothersome than a breathing device.
- Electrical implants: Implants have been approved to electrically stimulate the muscles that open your upper airway or the nerves that supply the muscles. Insertion of the implant requires a minor surgery. Once impanated, apnea triggers the implant to deliver mild electrical pulses.
- Physical therapy. You might try working with a physical therapist to strengthen your mouth and facial muscles. Called orofacial therapy, this therapy may help you keep your airway open at night.
- If you have moderate to severe sleep apnea and a trial of other treatments has not worked, several surgeries are available. Surgery to remove sagging tissue at the rear of your mouth or just your tonsils may help. These tissues can also be reduced by shrinking them with electric currents, called radiofrequency ablation. If the problem is a lower jaw that is too short, there are procedures to reposition the jaw. These surgeries all have risks and complications, so they are kept as a last resort.
Natural Sleep Apnea Remedies and Treatments
No matter what treatment you choose for sleep apnea, there are natural remedies and treatments that you will also need to do. These natural treatments are all lifestyle changes you make on your own. If you have mild sleep apnea, these changes may be all you need. If you are using another sleep apnea treatment, these lifestyle changes will help your treatment work better:
- Lose weight if you are overweight and maintain a healthy weight. Obesity adds tissue to your neck that increases the risk of your airway collapsing.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise will help you lose weight and has been shown to improve sleep apnea even if you don’t need to lose weight.
- Avoid alcohol, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills. All of these increase relaxations of the muscles that control your airway. If you drink alcohol, avoid drinking after dinner.
- Don’t smoke. All types of smoking increase irritation and inflammation of your airway, making it narrower.
- Don’t sleep on your back. Gravity pulls your tongue and jaw back into your airway.
Bottom Line on Sleep Apnea Solutions
Sleep apnea can’t be ignored. It needs to be treated. For moderate to severe sleep apnea, CPAP is the most effective choice. Before you try anything else, work with your health care provider to find a mask and machine that you can use. Don’t give up too soon. It takes time to adjust to a breathing device. No matter what solution works best for you, remember to include the lifestyle changes along with it.