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Sleep apnea
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Sleep apnea
Diseases & Conditions A-Z

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BRAIN & NERVOUS SYSTEM

Sleep

Treatment

Sleep apnea rarely goes away on its own. A number of treatments are available. For obstructive sleep apnea, certain devices can help open up a blocked airway. In other cases, surgery may be necessary.

Treatments for obstructive sleep apnea may include:

Therapies

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). If you have moderate to severe sleep apnea, you may benefit from a machine that delivers air pressure through a mask placed over your nose. With CPAP (SEE-pap), the air pressure is somewhat greater than that of the surrounding air, and is just enough to keep your upper airway passages open, preventing apnea and snoring.

  • Although CPAP is a preferred method of treating sleep apnea, many people find it cumbersome and uncomfortable. With some practice, most people learn to adjust the tension of the straps to obtain a comfortable and secure fit. You may need to try more than one type of mask to find one that's comfortable. Some people also benefit from using a humidifier along with their CPAP system.

  • Dental devices. Certain dental devices designed to open the throat by bringing the jaw forward can sometimes relieve snoring and mild obstructive sleep apnea. A number of devices are available from your dentist. You may need to try different devices before finding one that works for you.

Surgery or other procedures
The goal of surgery for sleep apnea is to remove excess tissue from your nose or throat that may be vibrating and causing you to snore, or that may be blocking your upper air passages and causing sleep apnea. Surgical options may include:

  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). During this procedure, tissue from the rear of your mouth and top of your throat is removed. Your tonsils and adenoids usually are removed as well. This type of surgery may be successful in stopping throat structures from vibrating and causing snoring. However, it may be less successful in treating sleep apnea because tissue farther down your throat may still block your air passage. UPPP usually is performed in a hospital and requires a general anesthetic. After the procedure, you may have a very sore throat for a number of days and be able to eat only soft foods. Full recovery generally takes about a month. This is the most common type of surgery to treat snoring and sleep apnea.

  • Laser-assisted uvulopalatoplasty (LAUP). Performed in your doctor's office, this procedure involves the use of a laser to remove part of your soft palate and shorten the triangular piece of tissue hanging from your soft palate (uvula), eliminating excess tissue that may obstruct your airway and cause snoring and sleep apnea.

  • Radiofrequency ablation (RFA). In this office procedure, your doctor uses radiofrequency energy to remove tissue from your uvula, soft palate and tongue, which may help decrease snoring and your risk of sleep apnea. The radiofrequency energy is delivered to electrodes at the tip of a surgical device, which heats and destroys some tissue in your mouth and throat.

Both LAUP and RFA are less invasive and generally less painful than UPPP. However, these procedures aren't recommended if you have moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea.

  • Tracheostomy. This form of surgery may be necessary if other treatments have failed and you have severe, life-threatening sleep apnea. In this procedure, your surgeon makes an opening in your neck and inserts a metal or plastic tube through which you breathe. The opening is kept covered during the day. But at night it's uncovered to allow air to pass in and out of your lungs, bypassing the blocked air passage in your throat.

Other types of surgery may help reduce snoring and sleep apnea by clearing or enlarging air passages:

  • Nasal surgery to remove polyps or straighten a crooked partition between your nostrils (deviated nasal septum)

  • Removal of enlarged tonsils or adenoids

  • Surgery to move the jaw, facial bones and tongue forward

Treatments for central sleep apnea are more limited and may include:

  • Treatment for associated medical problems. Possible causes of central sleep apnea include heart or neuromuscular disorders, and treating those conditions may help. For example, optimizing therapy for heart failure may eliminate central sleep apnea.

  • Supplemental oxygen. Using supplemental oxygen while you sleep may help if you have central sleep apnea. Various forms of oxygen are available as well as different devices to delivery oxygen to your lungs.

  • Continuous positive airway pressure. This method, also used in obstructive sleep apnea, involves wearing a pressurized mask over your nose while you sleep. The mask is attached to a small pump that forces air through your airway to keep it from collapsing. CPAP may eliminate snoring and prevent sleep apnea.

  • Bilevel positive airway pressure (bilevel PAP). Unlike CPAP, which supplies steady, constant pressure to the upper airway as you breathe in and out, bilevel PAP builds to a higher pressure when you inhale and decreases to a lower pressure when you exhale. The goal of this treatment is to boost the weak breathing pattern of central sleep apnea. Some bilevel PAP devices can be set to automatically deliver a breath if the device detects you haven't taken a breath after so many seconds.

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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