What is Sleep Apnea and What Can You Do to Treat it?


Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder in which a person’s breathing repeatedly stops while sleeping.

It is a chronic health problem that can potentially get worse over time as it adversely affects blood oxygen levels and tissue perfusion.

Some people with sleep apnea wake up often during the night feeling as though they cannot breathe.

Yet others are not even aware that they have a problem until a family member or spouse brings it to their attention.

Sleep apnea usually occurs due to blockage or constriction of the airways when the muscles in the back of the throat relax.

This leads to the insufficient intake of air and, consequently, oxygen. Snoring and feeling tired even after a full night’s sleep are the most common sleep apnea symptoms.

Gasping or choking breaths during sleep and the inability to stay alert in the daytime are also symptoms of this condition.

Sleep apnea symptoms can present as mild, moderate or severe, with several treatment options available for each severity level.

For example, therapy for central sleep apnea, a condition in which the brain does not transmit impulses to the nerves of the breathing muscles, would differ from treatment that can be used for obstructive sleep apnea, where there is over-relaxation of the throat muscles.

Among the treatment options available today, here are seven tested and proven solutions.

Oral Devices

Oral devices help keep your airways open while you sleep, thereby allowing you to breathe correctly.

They work by pushing the lower part of the jaw forward to remove the restriction in the throat. The device is shaped like a mouth guard or retainer and placed in the mouth before going to sleep.

While you can get these devices over the counter, visiting a dentist is recommended to get a piece designed specifically for you and your health needs.

Some dental practices offer treatments that use a customized airway device to keep the airways open and treat sleep apnea effectively.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Devices

More severe cases of sleep apnea might require using a CPAP machine. For patients who do not respond to oral devices, professionals like Dr. Hawkins, a dentist in Midlothian, will refer them to a sleep specialist.

The CPAP device works by exerting air pressure on the airway muscles to prevent them from closing up and allowing for adequate breathing.

The machines deliver air continuously through a mask worn over the nose and the mouth. The amount of air pressure can be equivalent during inspiration and exhalation.

Or, it can be varied, higher during inspiration and lower during exhalation – as is the case with the bilevel positive airway pressure (BPAP) device.

Airway Stimulation Therapy

This type of therapy involves a minimally invasive procedure where devices are implanted into the body to facilitate effective breathing.

In obstructive sleep apnea cases, the devices strengthen the throat muscles, keeping them from over-relaxing.

For central sleep apnea, battery-powered appliances are embedded into the skin of the chest. The appliance monitors your regular breathing pattern and delivers signals to the breathing muscles to stimulate breathing.

Weight Loss Therapy

A leading cause of sleep apnea is obesity. Weight loss therapy has been proven to cure this condition effectively.

Loss of weight can be achieved through a thorough exercise regimen combined with a diet plan. It can also be achieved by taking weight loss medications or undergoing surgery.

Change in Sleeping Position

Research shows that sleeping on your back is a predisposing factor of sleep apnea, especially in mild to moderate cases.

Hence, experts have recommended sleeping on your side as a way of treating sleep apnea. For optimal effectiveness, measures should be taken to prevent turning to the back during sleep, such as attaching a hard object to the back of your sleepwear.

Lifestyle Changes

Avoidance of smoking and alcohol can have a significant influence on the treatment of sleep apnea.

Alcohol consumption, especially before sleep, can influence the relaxation of the airway muscles. Smoking can also cause swelling in the throat, thereby inhibiting breathing.


Surgery is a viable treatment option in severe sleep apnea cases, mostly when other therapies have failed.

Some of the surgical procedures available include:

  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty: a common but not the most effective surgery used to treat sleep apnea. It involves removing tissue from the back of your mouth and the top of your throat.
  • Anterior inferior mandibular osteotomy: helps to open your airwaves while stabilizing your mouth and jaw. The procedure allows your tongue to move forward by dividing your chin bone into two parts.
  • Radiofrequency volumetric tissue reduction: uses radiofrequency to open your airwaves by removing or shrinking tissues from the back of your throat.

Removing the tonsils and adenoids are also surgical procedures used to treat sleep apnea.


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