Sleep apnea is a serious condition that is categorized by loud snoring and episodes of short pauses in breathing during sleep. The sleep disorder is linked to a lot of health complications and can be life-threatening as well. That is why it is important to consult with a doctor at the nearest community healthcare center as soon as you notice any signs or symptoms of sleep apnea. The doctor would evaluate the symptoms you are experiencing and check your medical history to see if the problems are related to any other underlying condition. He/she would then recommend a sleep study to analyze your breathing pattern and other vital body functions during sleep.

To diagnose sleep apnea, doctors recommend a sleep test known as nocturnal polysomnography. The test is done to monitor the activity of your heart, brain, and lungs during sleep, as well as record your breathing patterns and arm and leg movements. It also helps to determine the changes in the level of oxygen in your blood when you are asleep. If the results of the test are abnormal, the doctor might recommend a treatment regime without any further testing. In case of obstructive sleep apnea though, the doctor might also suggest consulting an ENT specialist to rule out any blockage in your nose or throat that could be causing the symptoms. In some cases, the doctor might also recommend consulting with a cardiologist or neurologist to check for central sleep apnea.

Treatment of Sleep Apnea

Experts at community healthcare centers usually recommend lifestyle changes for mild cases of sleep apnea, such as losing weight, controlling alcohol use, and quitting smoking, etc. If you are allergic to something, the doctor might also prescribe medications to treat your allergies. However, if such measures do not work to relieve your symptoms, or if your condition were moderate to severe, then the doctor would suggest other therapies for treating sleep apnea.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure or CPAP is the most common treatment option for sleep apnea. CPAP therapy involves wearing a mask attached to a machine that delivers the right air pressure when you are asleep. This would help to keep the upper airway open and reduce the chances of snoring and apnea episodes. Although the use of a CPAP machine might seem a bit uncomfortable, it is the most reliable method to treat the condition and you can learn how to adjust with it after a few weeks of use. However, if you are finding it too difficult to sleep with a CPAP mask on, you can consult with your doctor to use a different kind of airway pressure device.

There are many types of airway pressure devices out there, which can help to automatically adjust the air pressure while you are asleep. You can also opt for bi-level positive airway pressure (BPAP) therapy, which works to provide more pressure when you inhale and less pressure when you exhale. There are oral appliances such as mouth guards as well, which help to keep your throat open during sleep, thereby allowing free flow of air. While such oral appliances can offer great help to reduce snoring and relieve the symptoms of mild sleep apnea, they are often not as reliable in treating moderate to severe cases of sleep apnea as CPAP therapy is.

If none of the other treatment methods provide any relief from the symptoms of sleep apnea, your doctor would recommend surgery as the last resort. Typically, doctors would recommend a three-month trial of other therapies before suggesting surgery. However, it might be the only remedy in case you have a jaw misalignment. The most common surgical options for treating sleep apnea include:

  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty: This procedure entails removing tissues from the back of your mouth as well as from the top of your throat. This helps to reduce snoring and obstructions in breathing during sleep. In some cases, the tonsils and adenoids are also removed during the surgery.
  • Tissue shrinkage: This procedure is done to shrink the tissues at the back of your mouth and throat with the help of radiofrequency ablation. This works similar to tissue removal but involves fewer surgical risks.
  • Maxillomandibular advancement: This procedure entails fixing the misalignment of your jaw, which helps to increase the space behind the soft palate and your tongue. This allows free-breathing during sleep and reduces the symptoms of sleep apnea.
  • Nerve stimulation: This procedure is done to insert a stimulator for the hypoglossal nerve, which controls the tongue movement. This helps to keep the tongue in position when you are asleep and maintain the airway space for free breathing.
  • Tracheostomy: This procedure is done when all other treatments have failed to improve your condition or if your sleep apnea is very severe. This procedure involves creating a new air passageway in your throat to bypass the air blockage.
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    About the Author

    Dr. Ghassan M. Al-Jazayrly, MD

    A graduate of University of Aleppo Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Al-Jazayrly or, as he is colloquially known: Dr. AJ, is an oncologist and hematologist of a Complete Care Community Health Center (CCCHC) with more than 36 years of experience. In recent years, he’s been involved with a non profit organization known as Every Woman Counts (EWC) which provides free breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services to California’s underserved populations in order to eliminate health disparities for low-income individuals.

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