Apnea is a condition characterized by difficulty in breathing caused by swollen or collapsed pharyngeal muscles, leading to blocked airways. In sleep apnea, breathing can stop for several minutes, causing oxygen levels in the bloodstream to drop and carbon dioxide to build up. The three categories of sleep apnea are central, mixed, and obstructive sleep apnea. The muscles in the roof of the throat close and obstruct the airway, preventing oxygen from entering the body and carbon dioxide from leaving.
The most common type of treatment for apnea is the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. A CPAP device is a mask placed on the patient’s nose that provides a constant flow of air pressure to the lungs to prevent obstruction. While CPAP devices are a very effective form of apnea treatment, many patients report having chest discomfort, skin irritation, and nasal problems, such as nosebleeds. The mask can even leave some feeling claustrophobic and may lead to anxiety. There are several alternatives to CPAP devices that are more comfortable and can be just as effective in treating sleep apnea.
Alternative PAP therapy
There are other forms of PAP treatment besides CPAP that are also very effective. Bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machines assist breathing by providing internal and external air pressure. Auto PAP devices automatically adjust PAP levels to counter apnea episodes. These full-face mask devices are more comfortable than CPAP masks and are less likely to lead to adverse reactions.
Instead of CPAP nose masks, oral appliance therapy uses mouth guard devices to open the airways. These devices are worn over the mouth while sleeping while providing a constant flow of air pressure into the lungs similar to CPAP. Oral appliances give relief for obstructive apnea while eliminating the discomfort associated with CPAP devices. Oral therapy devices are easier to wear and to maintain. They make less noise, allowing patients to sleep more peacefully. Studies report that patients usually opt for oral appliances as a more effective and low maintenance treatment than CPAP. The FDA and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine have both approved oral appliance therapy as an effective cure for obstructive apnea symptoms.
Positional sleep therapy is the most practical form of treatment for sleep apnea. While it has only been reported for mild cases, shifting sleeping positions has been known to effectively counter apnea symptoms. A simple technique to reduce airway blockage involves patients tying a tennis ball to their back while sleeping on their side. Doctors also advise against lying supine, as the pharynx is most likely to collapse in this position. There are also some devices that help reduce symptoms, such as inflatable belts or vests that are worn while sleeping on one side.
There are several surgical procedures that help treat sleep apnea. The most common type of surgical treatment is uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). This procedure involves widening the airway by removing excess tissue. UPPP is known to be very painful for the patient and recovery takes several weeks. Maxillomomandibullar advancement is a very delicate operation that expands the airway by altering the skeletal structure of the mandible. It is considered the most effective surgery for apnea, and achieves long-lasting improvement of the airway capacity. However, it is also very risky and results in a permanent change in the anatomy of the jaw. Radiofrequency ablation makes the tongue smaller by removing excess tissues to clear the airway. Palatal implants inserted into the soft palate stiffen the muscles to prevent collapse or blockage. Tonsillectomies are advisable for children, as swollen tonsils can cause obstruction.
Provent nasal devices
Provent is an FDA approved treatment that facilitates easier breathing while sleeping. It is a form of nasal expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP) treatment that uses the sleeper’s own breathing to alleviate apnea. The pair of devices is attached to each nostril. Upon inhalation, a valve opens, allowing air to pass through easily. When exhaling, most of the valve closes, leaving the air to exit through a smaller opening, causing a buildup of air pressure in the airway. This helps leave the airway open and allows easier, unobstructed breathing. Provent is an effective and easy to use type of treatment. It is applicable to all cases of obstructive sleep apnea and is comfortable enough for constant use. It is also easy to carry and can thus be brought for travel.
There are many alternative remedies that have not been definitively proven as effective apnea treatments, but have been known to provide relief for patients. Studies have discovered that both acupuncture and acupressure help apnea patients sleep better. They target specific points on the body that allow certain muscles to relax. Ear acupuncture, also known as auriculotherapy, focuses on different points on the ear that connect to the pharyngeal muscles for proper breathing. Certain herbal remedies have also been linked to symptom relief, such as passion flower and valerian. Studies have shown that cannabis can successfully reduce symptoms. Maintaining optimal health by exercising regularly and keeping away from alcohol and certain medications is also a good way to deal with obstructive apnea. Smoking is an especially toxic vice that can lead to further clogging of the airway. Despite these benefits, natural remedies can only help relieve symptoms and should not be relied on as an absolute cure.
Learn the best way of managing apnea without the use of CPAP here!