Sleep apnea affects more than twelve million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. Sleep apnea is classified as a sleep disorder when an individual repeatedly stops breathing for short periods of time at night. In obstructive sleep apnea, this is due to the upper airway becoming blocked. In central sleep apnea, the cause is the brain periodically failing to send the signal to breathe during sleep. A sleep study can help determine whether sleep apnea is present and how severe it is (instances of episodes as well as blood oxygen levels throughout the night).
Causes and risk factors for sleep apnea
Sleep apnea can be brought on by different things. People who are overweight or obese are at risk of sleep apnea. Enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids can also be the cause of sleep apnea. People with certain genetic conditions such as cleft palates or Down syndrome are also at higher risk of developing the condition due to structural issues within the anatomy of the mouth. In those with central sleep apnea, neuromuscular conditions are often the culprit.
Treatments for sleep apnea
After a sleep study, your doctor will help you determine the best form of treatment.
Lifestyle changes: these may be tried alone or in conjunction with other treatments depending on the cause and severity of your sleep apnea. Lifestyle changes include losing weight, increasing exercise, eating a healthier diet, and quitting smoking.
Mouthpiece: a mouthpiece may be recommended to keep the upper airway open or keep the tongue in place during sleep.
CPAP: a CPAP machine is a wearable device used at bedtime. It helps by using air pressure to keep the airway open at night.
Pillar procedure: the Pillar Procedure is a minimally invasive procedure that involves the placement of small inserts in the soft palate to help stop snoring and help with mild to moderate sleep apnea.
Surgery: in some cases surgery is necessary to open up the airways. A tonsillectomy may help. In young children, the adenoids may need to be reduced in size if they are enlarged. Other possible surgery options include maxillary advancement and tracheostomy.
Untreated sleep apnea can be dangerous and can lead to further problems such as behavioral issues in children and heart issues in adults. It’s important to seek out treatment if you think you have sleep apnea. There is no one best treatment for sleep apnea; your doctor will review your particular case and make a determination as to the best course of action.