Santa Cruz Ear, Nose, & Throat Medical Group

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How is Sleep Apnea Treated?

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Sleep apnea is a breathing condition that causes a person to stop breathing while sleeping. Although the breathing pauses are usually short - less than 10 seconds in most cases - the condition can be extremely difficult to live with and has a number of symptoms that can impact a person’s ability to live life to the full.

As a result of the health and lifestyle issues sleep apnea can cause, effective treatment is essential. Below, we will investigate the current options available to people experiencing sleep apnea - but first, let’s clarify the two different types of sleep apnea:

  • OSA - Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea. OSA occurs when the soft tissue and muscles at the back of the throat relax during sleep, which can temporarily block the airway and cause breathing to cease.
  • CSA - Central Sleep Apnea is far less common. CSA is not related to the physical throat itself; instead, the condition is caused by the brain failing to send the signal to breathe.

CSA is most commonly experienced by those with underlying health conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or heart disease and treatment can be incredibly complex as a result. We will be focusing on OSA for the duration of this piece.

How is OSA treated?

There are a number of treatments that are available to people who are experiencing OSA.

Weight loss

The majority of OSA cases are caused by excess body weight, so weight loss is commonly suggested as a method of alleviating the symptoms of sleep apnea. While this may not completely resolve the condition, it does make recovery more likely and allows other treatments to be more effective too.

CPAP

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is often the first treatment suggested by an ear, nose and throat doctor for sleep apnea. CPAP involves the use of a mechanical device that creates continuous air pressure via a mask. This ensures the airway stays open throughout the night, making it a highly effective treatment for OSA.

While CPAP is mostly well-tolerated and produces excellent results for people with sleep apnea, it may not always be suitable. CPAP may not be as effective if there is a physical reason the airway is becoming blocked; for example, if a person has enlarged tonsils or a deviated septum. In these cases, surgery is often considered as an alternative or supplementary treatment.

Surgery

There are a number of forms of surgical treatments available, including uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, which removes excess tissue in the throat, a tonsillectomy or adenoid removal. While these treatments can be effective, all surgery carries an element of risk and most patients are advised to at least attempt CPAP prior to exploring their surgical options.

In conclusion

Thanks to CPAP, sleep apnea treatment can be highly effective - and even for those who experience issues, there are additional surgical options that can be explored. As a result, if you suspect you are experiencing sleep apnea, speak to an ear, nose and throat doctor as soon as possible to begin your own treatment plan.


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