If you’re a heavy snorer, you might be wondering if you have a condition that requires medical treatment. It turns out that some heavy snorers actually have a condition known as sleep apnea. Once you get the diagnosis of sleep apnea, there’s really two essential ways to treat sleep apnea. The first method is to use some type of external device to treat the sleep dysfunction. The second method is to treat the source of the problem by opting for either throat or jaw surgery (orthognathic surgery). Let’s look at both treatments and weigh the plusses and minuses of each.
Snoring vs. Sleep Apnea
Snoring is much more benign when compared to sleep apnea. Snoring occurs when your muscles in your throat and mouth relax. When they become too relaxed, they can begin to vibrate and partially obstruct your breathing. This is what produces the sound of “snoring.” According the the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, almost half of American men and approximately a quarter of American women snore during their sleep.
Sleep apnea literally means to be without breath. When your oxygen gets stopped, this condition can actually wake people up with a snort or a gasp. Waking up a bunch of times in the middle of the night is enough to impact anyone’s quality of life. There are two common kinds of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airway becomes narrowed or obstructed. This means that you’re trying to breathe, but there’s no air coming from your nose or mouth. The other form of sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, is a phenomenon where your brain basically forgets to tell your body to breathe.
Treating Sleep Apnea Using Machines and Appliances
A popular sleep apnea treatment method is to use a CPAP machine that delivers air and breathes for you. CPAP machine is short for continuous positive airway pressure machine. This is generally some sort of a mask or nasal cannula that you put into your nose. The mask is hooked up to a machine that pumps oxygen into your airway. This keeps it open so that you can get the oxygen that you need. These simple devices are popular for treating sleep apnea.
Another device used to treat sleep apnea is some sort of oral appliance. These devices tend to be a little less invasive than CPAP machines, but patients will still have to get used to having a device in their mouth while they sleep. Patients tend to be able to sleep more freely compared to a CPAP machine, including on their side or on their back. A big benefit of oral appliances is that they don’t need electricity. This is great for people who travel every year and need something portable. People with sleep apnea are often already wearing braces, retainers or even a grinding splint at night. In the cases of patients that have sleep apnea combined with bruxism or grinding, an oral appliance would be appropriate. These co-morbid conditions would allow your doctor to treat both teeth grinding and sleep apnea at the same time.
The major problem with these sleep apnea treatments is that they’re not well-tolerated by patients. For example, patient compliance rates with CPAP machines average only about 50%. Whether it’s a mask or mouthpiece, many people can’t tolerate sleeping with something attached to their face. There are also some patients that have more complex types of central sleep apnea than these types of machines or appliances can treat.
Treating Sleep Apnea with Surgery
If you opt to have your sleep apnea treated with surgery, a doctor will first take an x-ray of your facial region. This is done to help gauge the level of obstruction in your airway. Some target regions of maxillofacial surgery for sleep apnea include the throat and the jaw. Surgery is sometimes performed to tighten the soft palate in an effort to improve breathing. If there is a large degree of obstruction, that might require orthognathic surgery to reposition the jaw. The drawbacks are that these surgeries will require some recovery time (overnight in the case of jaw surgery.) But not having to wear a mask when you sleep can outweigh that drawback for many patients.
If you’ve tried CPAP machines in the past and had a poor compliance rate, the good news is that surgery can do away with those cumbersome machines. When you don’t have anything to wear at bedtime, people tend to like that solution a lot better. Patients should get sleep tested to see if they’re a good candidate for sleep apnea surgery. If they have questions about the procedure, the consultation is also an opportunity to get those concerns answered. You will go through a questionnaire that will help determine what risk factors you have that result from sleep apnea. This could include memory problems, obesity and daytime sleepiness. The doctor will find a solution that works well for your specific condition.
Sleep apnea has been linked to many other-other problems like high blood pressure and lack of concentration during the day. If it goes untreated for a long period of time, there is an increased risk of early heart problems and a thickening of the arteries. If sleep apnea has affected the quality of your life, then a consultation might be helpful in determining your treatment options. Dr. Jamali has years of experience as a board certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon. His clinic is located at 42 Broadway, Suite 1501. Please call 212-480-2777 to setup an appointment.