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Excerpted from Wikipedia.com

Treatment

Treatment can address different contributing factors. Treatment often starts with behavioral therapy. For mild cases of sleep apnea, a treatment which is a lifestyle change is sleeping on one’s side, which can prevent the tongue and palate from falling backwards in the throat and blocking the airway. Another is avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills, which can relax throat muscles, contributing to the collapse of the airway at night.

Sequentially or simultaneously with behavioral therapy, physical or mechanical interventions can be implemented. These options include positive airway pressure and dental appliance.The Pillar Procedure is a minimally invasive treatment for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. This procedure was FDA indicated in 2004. During this procedure, three to six+ dacron (the material used in permanent sutures) strips are inserted into the soft palate, using a modified syringe and local anesthetic. While the procedure was initially approved for the insertion of three “pillars” into the soft palate, it was found that there was a significant dosage response to more pillars, with appropriate candidates. After this brief and virtually painless outpatient operation, which usually lasts no more than 30 minutes, the soft palate is more rigid and snoring and sleep apnea can be reduced. This procedure addresses one of the most common causes of snoring and sleep apnea – vibration or collapse of the soft palate (the soft part of the roof of the mouth). If there are other factors contributing to snoring or sleep apnea, such as the nasal airway or an enlarged tongue, it will likely need to be combined with other treatments to be more effective.

For moderate to severe sleep apnea, the most common treatment is the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or Automatic Positive Airway Pressure (APAP) device,which ‘splints’ the patient’s airway open during sleep by means of a flow of pressurized air into the throat. The patient typically wears a plastic facial mask, which is connected by a flexible tube to a small bedside CPAP machine. The CPAP machine generates the required air pressure to keep the patient’s airways open during sleep. Advanced models may warm or humidify the air and monitor the patient’s breathing to ensure proper treatment. Although CPAP therapy is extremely effective in reducing apneas and less expensive than other treatments, some patients find it extremely uncomfortable. Many patients refuse to continue the therapy or fail to use their CPAP machines on a nightly basis.

In addition to CPAP, dentists specializing in sleep disorders can prescribe Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT). The oral appliance is a custom-made mouthpiece that shifts the lower jaw forward, opening up the airway. OAT is usually successful in patients with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea. OAT is a relatively new treatment option for sleep apnea in the United States, but it is much more common in Canada and Europe.

Several levels of obstruction may be addressed in physical treatment, including the nasal passage, throat (pharynx), base of tongue, and facial skeleton. Surgical treatment for obstructive sleep apnea needs to be individualized in order to address all anatomical areas of obstruction. Often, correction of the nasal passages needs to be performed in addition to correction of the oropharynx passage. Septoplasty and turbinate surgery may improve the nasal airway. Tonsillectomy and uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP or UP3) are available to address pharyngeal obstruction. Base-of-tongue advancement by means of advancing the genial tubercle of the mandible may help with the lower pharynx. A myriad of other techniques are available, including hyoid bone myotomy and suspension and various radiofrequency technologies.

Other surgery options may attempt to shrink or stiffen excess tissue in the mouth or throat, procedures done at either a doctor’s office or a hospital. Small shots or other treatments, sometimes in a series, are used for shrinkage, while the insertion of a small piece of stiff plastic is used in the case of surgery whose goal is to stiffen tissues.

Possibly owing to changes in pulmonary oxygen stores, sleeping on one’s side (as opposed to on one’s back) has been found to be helpful for central sleep apnea with Cheyne-Stokes respiration (CSA-CSR).

Medications like Acetazolamide lower blood pH and encourage respiration. Low doses of oxygen are also used as a treatment for hypoxia but are discouraged due to side effects.

Surgery

CPAP is the most consistently safe and effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, but it is not a cure. People are less likely to use it in the long term. The Stanford Center for Excellence in Sleep Disorders Medicine achieved a 95% cure rate of sleep apnea patients by surgery. Maxillomandibular advancement (MMA) is considered the most effective surgery for sleep apnea patients, because it increases the posterior airway space (PAS). The main benefit of the operation is that the oxygen saturation in the arterial blood increases. In a study published in 2008, 93.3.% of surgery patients achieved an adequate quality of life based on the Functional Outcomes of Sleep Questionnaire (FOSQ). Surgery led to a significant increase in general productivity, social outcome, activity level, vigilance, intimacy and sex. Overall risks of MMA surgery are low: The Stanford University Sleep Disorders Center found 4 failures in a series of 177 patients, or about one out of 44 patients. However, health professionals are often unsure as to who should be referred for surgery and when to do so: some factors in referral may include failed use of CPAP or device use; anatomy which favors rather than impeding surgery; or significant craniofacial abnormalities which hinder device use.

Several inpatient and outpatient procedures use sedation. Many drugs and agents used during surgery to relieve pain and to depress consciousness remain in the body at low amounts for hours or even days afterwards. In an individual with either central, obstructive or mixed sleep apnea, these low doses may be enough to cause life-threatening irregularities in breathing or collapses in a patient’s airways. Use of analgesics and sedatives in these patients postoperatively should therefore be minimized or avoided.

Surgery on the mouth and throat, as well as dental surgery and procedures, can result in postoperative swelling of the lining of the mouth and other areas that affect the airway. Even when the surgical procedure is designed to improve the airway, such as tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy or tongue reduction, swelling may negate some of the effects in the immediate postoperative period. Once the swelling resolves and the palate becomes tightened by postoperative scarring, however, the full benefit of the surgery may be noticed.

Sleep apnea patients undergoing any medical treatment must make sure his or her doctor and/or anesthetist are informed about their condition. Alternate and emergency procedures may be necessary to maintain the airway of sleep apnea patients. If an individual suspects he or she may have sleep apnea, communication with their doctor about possible preprocedure screening may be in order.

Alternative treatments

A 2005 study in the British Medical Journal found that learning and practicing the didgeridoo helped reduce snoring and sleep apnea as well as daytime sleepiness. This appears to work by strengthening muscles in the upper airway, thus reducing their tendency to collapse during sleep.

A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Clinical Care Medicine found that “oropharyngeal exercises derived from speech therapy may be an effective treatment option for patients with moderate” obstructive sleep apnea,

Epidemiology

The Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study estimated in 1993 that roughly one in every 15 Americans were affected by at least moderate sleep apnea. It also estimated that in middle-age as many as nine percent of women and 24 percent of men were affected, undiagnosed and untreated.

The costs of untreated sleep apnea reach further than just health issues. It is estimated that in the U.S. the average untreated sleep apnea patient’s annual health care costs $1,336 more than an individual without sleep apnea. This may cause $3.4 billion/year in additional medical costs. Whether medical cost savings occur with treatment of sleep apnea remains to be determined.

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