Sufferers of sleep apnea–and their loved ones–are likely already familiar with its best-known and most prevalent treatment, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). It’s safe, effective, and has no real side effects, unless you count the discomfort and inconvenience of the mask. There are, however, several alternative treatments worth considering for anyone who has difficulties with CPAP. Here’s a brief rundown:
Often, in milder cases, a shift from back-sleeping is all it takes to ease the symptoms of sleep apnea. Positional therapy works by training a patient to shift to his or her side or stomach during sleep. There are sensors that can be worn on the back of the neck, which vibrate until the patient shifts position–or it can be as simple as sewing a couple of Ping-Pong balls into the back of a shirt.
Bi-level PAP therapy is virtually identical to CPAP, except that it uses pressure on both the inhale and the exhale in order to keep the airway clear. If CPAP alone is not effective, or if the patient has additional respiratory issues such as COPD, then BiPAP is a solid alternative.
Mandibular advancing device
Also known as a sleep apnea oral apprentice, these devices help to keep the airway open by shifting the lower jaw forward. Made of either silicone or plastic, they resemble clear braces, and can be transported more easily than a CPAP mask. However, their use can also cause TMJ pain or tooth shifting, especially over the long term.
Sleep apnea can afflict anyone, regardless of body size, but it’s more prevalent in overweight individuals. Dropping weight means that the lungs won’t have to work as hard, which eases air flow. If the traditional routes of diet and exercise aren’t an option, bariatric surgery is another route to consider. Bear in mind that the surgery requires a great deal of discipline–it isn’t a magical cure for obesity–and carries the risk of complications.
If all else fails, there are surgical procedures targeted specifically toward sleep apnea sufferers. These include somnoplasty, a technique that uses radio waves to target tissue in the upper airway; the Pillar procedure, which implants woven inserts in the back of the throat in an effort to stabilize the airway; and other routine procedures like adenoidectomies or nasal surgery.