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When thinking about treatment options, remember that apnea causes an obstruction in the airway during sleep. Apnea events occur during sleep and not during waking hours because the muscles (including the muscles in the airway) relax during sleep. Obstructions that cause breathing to stop completely for at least ten seconds are termed “apneas”. When breathing is substantially reduced for at least ten seconds, it is considered a hypopnea.
Frequent apneas and hypopneas leads to numerous brief awakenings during sleep and causes sleepiness during waking hours. All treatment options are intended to prevent obstructions by widening the airway. Keep in mind that the precise cause of obstruction is usually difficult to find, and many people have obstructions in more than place. (For simplicity, here “apneas” include hypopneas as well). For more on OSA, read the American Sleep Apnea Association’s brochure about sleep apnea.
Apneas tend to be worse when sleeping on the back (supine position) as gravity makes it more likely for the tongue to fall back over the airway and/or for the airway muscles and other tissue (like the tonsils) to collapse and cause a blockage. Not sleeping on the back may reduce the number of apneas. To avoid the supine position, some people use homemade remedies such as putting tennis balls in a tube sock and pinning the sock to the back of the nightshirt. Others products such as a tube or cushion designed specifically to prevent supine sleeping can also relieve symptoms.
A number of companies have FDA registered pillows for snoring and mild sleep apnea that are meant to position the neck so the airway is more likely to remain open. Positional alarms are also on the market, which are intended to prevent supine sleeping by making a noise when one begins to sleep on the back. However, an alarm can disrupt sleep so much that this method can be a cause for concern.
Sleep apnea can be weight-related. Additional fat around the neck may make the airway more narrow, which makes obstructions more likely to occur. For some overweight people, especially those with mild cases, losing weight can be an effective treatment or reduce the severity of the sleep apnea. However, it may be hard to lose weight when you have untreated sleep apnea: you may be too tired to exercise.
It may take some time before weight loss is achieved, so in light of the potential consequences of untreated OSA, using another treatment option while working towards the weight loss goal may be an option. Losing weight may also improve your health in other ways, but it is always advisable to talk to your doctor before beginning a weight-loss program.
A CPAP machine works by gently blowing pressurized air through the airway at a pressure high enough to keep the throat open. This pressurized air acts as a “splint.” The pressure is set according to the patient’s needs at a level that eliminates the apneas and hypopneas that cause awakenings and sleep fragmentation. Pressure that is too low will not be as effective in eliminating apneas and hypopneas.
CPAP therapy is the most effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. It can sometimes be hard to use, but any complaints about the comfort of the machine or mask can usually be addressed easily. Be sure to call Aeroflow Industrial to discuss any discomfort you experience or any hesitation you might feel regarding sleep apnea treatment.