Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder with potential complications. It occurs because your breathing during sleep is continuously interrupted, meaning it stops and starts. It disturbs your sleep and has serious consequences if left untreated. That is why treating it is necessary.
Once the diagnosis of sleep apnea is confirmed, your doctor will start treatment, which may be conservative or surgical. However, for mild cases and even for early moderate cases, you could start adopting certain natural remedies at home and make changes to your lifestyle such as losing weight.
For more moderate to severe cases, the use of a breathing support device at night, such as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine or an oral dental device may be recommended.
Medications or surgical options may also be used to treat a cause that may be triggering sleep apnea.
Breathing may be interrupted due to the intermittent blockage of the upper part of the airway due to certain local causes such as the collapse of the sagging soft tissues of the soft palate, blocked nose, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, and more. This type of sleep apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), signifying obstruction of the upper airway. It is characterized by several symptoms, the typical being loud snoring.
The interrupted breathing can also be due to central causes arising in the brain or heart. In this type of apnea called central apnea, the brain fails to send signals to the respiratory muscles to contract and expand, which is essential for respiration. In the absence of these signals, breathing suffers.
Once diagnosed, the importance of sleep apnea treatment, whether it be obstructive or central, can be gauged from the serious health complications that can arise if it is left untreated.
Sudden death can occur because of these complications and therefore, treating sleep apnea becomes essential.
Statistics show that only 10% of the cases undergo treatment while the rest of the 90% do not know that they have sleep apnea or do not seek treatment.
It is, therefore, necessary to suspect this sleep disorder from your symptoms such as loud snoring and a feeling of drowsiness during the next day.
Your sleep specialist will conduct a sleep study called polysomnography and proceed with the diagnosis to confirm sleep apnea.
If you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), your health provider will refer you to an ENT surgeon to rule out any blockage in your nose and throat that could be disturbing your breathing.
If you are suspected of having central sleep apnea (CSA), a cardiologist and neurologist will look for any cardiac or neurology cause.
Aim of sleep apnea treatment
Treatment of sleep apnea aims at
- Restoring normal breathing during sleep
- Treating the cause to get relief from symptoms such as loud snoring and daytime sleepiness
There are several options, conservative and surgical that treat this condition and each is used according to its indications.
The best way to begin is to start treating your mild to moderate sleep apnea with home remedies that help the cure in a natural fashion.
Home remedies to cure sleep apnea naturally
Adopting the right lifestyle changes is effective to cure sleep apnea of mild nature. The following lifestyle adaptations are called for if you have mild symptoms.
- Losing weight. If you are overweight or obese, losing excess weight can correct mild to moderate cases. Losing up to 10% of the excess weight can improve your symptoms by 25%.
- Quitting smoking. Smoking causes inflammation and fluid retention in the soft tissues of the neck and upper part of the airway, which can obstruct the passage of air. Smokers are three times more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea than non-smokers.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol causes airway muscles to relax making them more likely to collapse This leads to the obstruction of the airways and disturbance in breathing.
- Avoid sleeping pills and sedatives. Sleep pills cause the throat and airway muscles to relax. This leads to the collapse of the airway, which disturbs your breathing.
- Avoid caffeine and a heavy meal. You should avoid caffeinated drinks such as coffee and tea at least six hours before bedtime. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant and will have a detrimental effect on your sleep. Avoid large, high-fat meals two hours before bedtime. It will be heavy on your digestive system and make you feel uncomfortable.
- Sleep on your side or abdomen and avoid sleeping on your back. Sleeping on the back will allow the soft relaxed tissues of your palate and tongue to fall back and block your airway. Sleeping on your side will prevent this. This measure will help to keep the throat and airway open. Use a pillow against your to prevent you from sleeping on your back.
- Keep your head up. Keep your head end 4 to 6 inches above the waist. Using a cervical pillow will help.
- Keep your nasal passages open. Keeping your nasal passages open will ensure proper breathing. Using nasal sprays before going to bed to ensure this if you have a blocked nose.
- Throat exercises involving the tongue and soft palate. Tongue and soft palate exercises will help to strengthen the muscles of the airway preventing its collapse. According to the American Journal of Sleep and Respiratory Critical Medicine, such exercises are highly effective and will reduce the severity of the symptoms. Exercises that will help are suction, chewing, swallowing, breathing, and speech. You should perform them every day for about 20 minutes.
- Foods to eat for sleep apnea. Avoid a spicy, oily, and heavy meal at night. There are some foods that help you sleep well. Incorporate them into your dinner every night in a rotation fashion. They include:
- melatonin-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables,
- mega-rich foods such as salmon, tuna, and even shrimp
- tryptophan foods such as chicken, fish, beans, nuts, and some vegetables.
If you are overweight or obese, you should include foods that will help you to lose weight. in your diet.
Besides the home remedies to tackle sleep apnea described above, there are medications and surgical options for moderate to severe cases.
Medications for sleep apnea
Usually, medicines are not prescribed for treating obstructive sleep apnea. Medicines are mainly given to treat the underlying cause of sleep apnea.
It could be an infected and enlarged tonsil or a nasal infection in which case antibiotics may be necessary.
In the case of central sleep apnea, there are several causes, which need to be looked into. Medicines become necessary to treat the cause such as heart disease or a neurological disorder.
Medicines may also be prescribed to reduce daytime sleepiness when CPAP reduces the number of apneas but daytime sleepiness continues.
The FDA of the United States has approved wakefulness-promoting medicines, which are used for patients on CPAP with daytime sleepiness. Examples of such drugs include Modafinil (brand name Provigil) and Armodafinil (Nuvigil).
Supplemental oxygen support
Giving oxygen during sleep to supplement the lowered blood oxygen levels may help in cases of central sleep apnea. However, this therapy does have its pros and cons and your sleep specialist will decide whether it is useful for you or not.
Other treatments available for obstructive sleep apnea:
Continuous positive air pressure (CPAP)
In CPAP therapy, you wear a properly fitting mask, which is attached to a CPAP machine by a tube.
The machine keeps your airways forcefully and comfortably open by applying mild positive air continuously so you breathe well throughout the night’s sleep.
Oral and dental devices
Oral and dental appliances are specially designed to hold your lower jaw forward. This prevents the tongue and soft tissues of the palate from collapsing and blocking the airway. This helps you breathe normally when you sleep.
The oral device is similar to a sports mouthguard or an orthodontic appliance. You put it on before going to sleep.
Surgery options for obstructive sleep apnea
There are several surgical options for obstructive sleep apnea. They include nasal surgery for a deviated nasal septum, UPPP, and more. Each has its own indications.