Sleep apnea (apnea comes from the Greek for "without breath") is a sleeping disorder which causes the sufferer to stop breathing many times a night, for up to a minute each time.
The symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, abrupt awakenings with shortness of breath, dry mouth, drowsiness and morning headache. The consequences of this disorder can be serious: hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Sleep apnea treatments then are vital. Three forms of sleep apnea exist: obstructive, central and mixed. Sleep apnea treatments vary according to the type of apnea, to the severity and to the medical history of the patient.
Sleep apnea treatments include lifestyle changes, physical interventions, oral devices, surgery, prescription medicines and breathing machines. A single type of treatment may not work on its own, thus requiring a combination of sleep apnea treatments to treat the disorder. The patient begins sleep apnea treatments with simple lifestyle change instructions: avoid alcohol, limit medications such as sedatives and muscles relaxants that relax the central nervous system, lose weight and/or quit smoking.
Sleep apnea treatments can include using a special pillow, or a device to keep the patient from sleeping on his/her back. Also included is wearing an oral device that keeps the airway open during sleep. An example of one of these oral devices for sleep apnea treatments is a mandibular advancement splint (MAS). This device is similar to a mouth guard worn in sports, and holds the lower jaw down and forward to keep the tongue farther away from the back of the airway.
Surgery is one of the more invasive sleep apnea treatments. Several procedures exist. Surgeons can remove and tighten tissue, and widen the airway. Success rate from surgical procedures, though, is not high. Prescription medicines are another possible treatment, though like surgery not highly successful. Stimulants can reduce the number of sleep apnea episodes, but produce side effects like palpitations and insomnia. When other sleep apnea treatments fail to treat the disorder, stimulants can be prescribed to help the patient's daytime sleepiness. As a complete sleep apnea treatment, however, prescribed medicines are ineffective.
The most widely used of the current sleep apnea treatments is continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. This sleep apnea treatment requires the patient to wear a mask while sleeping, over the nose, either over the mouth, or both. A breathing machine pumps a controlled stream of air into the mask. The additional pressure holds open the relaxed muscles, much as if air inflates a balloon. The patient's physician, based on an overnight test, prescribes the amount of pressure.
There are variants of the CPAP sleep apnea treatments. VPAP means variable positive airway pressure. Also known as bi-level or BiPAP, provides higher pressure during inhalation and lower pressure during exhalation, and is often utilized for patients who have other respiratory problems. APAP or automatic positive airway pressure is the newest form of breathing machine type sleep apnea treatments. The system has been approved by the FDA, but is still considered experimental.
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