Obstructive sleep apnea treatment

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when a person has periods of time while they are sleeping that they do not breathe. This is usually associated with snoring. This condition affects both children and adults alike. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when either the tongue, soft tissue, or another structure in the mouth or throat covers the throat when the person lies down to sleep. This can cause noisy breathing and even periods that last from seconds up to one minute where the person does not breathe at all. The cycle will then restart. This disorder affects as many as 18 million people in the United States alone.

In obstructive sleep apnea the throat is completely closed off causing the breathing to completely stop for a period of time. There is another disorder which is caused by partial obstruction of the airway. It is called obstructive hypopnea. This disorder causes episodes of slow really shallow breathing as opposed to stopping the breathing all together. Obstructive sleep apnea affects twice as many men as it does women. Out of those diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea 60% are overweight or obese.

Normally during the day the muscles of the throat and mouth constrict to keep the airway open. At night when at rest, in people who have obstructive sleep apnea, the muscles of the throat relax and allow the soft tissue to collapse on the airway causing the obstruction that then in turn causes a period of apnea to occur. Most people are awakened for a few seconds at the end of the brief period of not breathing. They then go back to sleep and the cycle starts all over again. These cycles can happen as many as in the hundreds of times a night. The average person who has obstructive sleep apnea will have from ten to sixty episodes a night. This waking and returning to sleep so many times keeps the person from going into deep sleep or REM which is needed by the body to refresh and replenish itself.

So who is at risk of developing this disorder? The biggest risk factor is for people who are overweight or obese. Those people who have had an excessive amount of weight gain in a short amount of time are at high risk of this disorder. The increased amount of fat that is deposited on the throat and the upper airway makes it narrower and much easier to close when the muscles relax. Aging is another factor for this problem. As we age, we lose muscle mass. This can be replaced with fatty tissue. As with people who are overweight the fatty tissue can cause a higher incidence of obstruction due to the narrowing of the upper airway. Men are more likely to develop this disorder than women. This is due to the male hormones. These hormones can cause some structural changes in the upper airway.

Other risk factors include children who have enlarged tonsils and adenoids. This is the main cause of obstructive sleep apnea in children. Surgery to remove the tonsils and adenoids can be very successful in treating this disorder in children, however the same is not true in adults. Some other risk factors include smoking, taking sedatives and drinking alcohol, abnormal structure of the jaw such as a receding chin, hypothyroidism, vocal cord paralysis, Down syndrome, and nasal congestion. People who have a family history of this disorder are at a higher risk as well.

The symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include being excessively sleepy during the daytime hours, changes in the personality, erectile dysfunction, decreased memory, and excessive drowsiness while driving. People with this disorder can fall asleep when they sit down in a quiet area. A lot of people with this disorder complain that they never feel rested when they wake up from sleeping.

Treatment for this disorder includes getting a thorough consultation and examination from a physician. They may schedule a sleep study to see if they can reproduce the periods of apnea. If obstructive sleep apnea is diagnosed there are some things that can help. These include losing weight to help improve the structure of the airway, using oral appliances to keep the obstruction from happening while sleeping, positional therapy during sleep, CPAP or other positive pressure devices and even some surgical options.

There is a new surgical procedure that has been approved by the FDA for obstructive sleep apnea. It is minimally invasive and is performed in a physician’s office using local anesthesia. The physician places three woven inserts into the soft palate to support the palate and reduce any obstruction. Most people can go home soon after and resume activities. There is minor discomfort with this procedure. This procedure has been shown to be effective for up to 80% of cases. Complications are very rare and have been a partial extrusion of the insert. These inserts can be removed at any time easily by a physician.

There are more involved surgical procedures that can be done by a physician if they feel that these are warranted. However most physicians tend to try all conservative measures first prior to going the surgical route to combat obstructive sleep apnea.

Last updated on Nov 24th, 2010 and filed under Sleep Disorders. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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