Treating sleep apnea

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Although sleep apnea is a fairly serious disorder, there are in fact many ways that it can be effectively treated. Other than obvious lifestyle changes that a patient can make, a host of medical options are available.


Positive airway pressure therapy


Positive airway pressure therapy (PAP) is used to treat both obstructive and central sleep apnea. It works using a pressurized air system which creates a “pneumatic splint” for the upper airway itself. This, in turn, helps to ensure that the soft tissue in the airway cannot narrow, preventing it from collapsing and therefore restricting the airway. The air itself is sent through to a mask worn by the patient. In turn, the mask directs the air at the airway. PAP is also used in hospitals, especially on patients with respiratory failure or on newborn babies.


Continuous positive airway pressure therapy

Continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP) is the most commonly used treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. It is very similar to PAP in that the equipment is made up from three main parts.

  • An air pump
  • Tubing
  • A mask

The air pump itself utilizes the air in the room, slowly pressurizing it to a certain point. This air is then directed through the tubing, to the mask, and into the throat. This air then keeps the throat open, helping to ensure a proper night’s sleep.


Automatic positive airway pressure therapy


Automatic positive airway pressure therapy (APAP) is very similar to both PAP and CPAP in terms of the delivery system. Here, however, the pressure levels of the air delivered through the system are automatically adjusted depending on how the person is breathing. This is for people who struggle with the PAP or CPAP or those who have other forms of the disorder, for example, REM-related sleep apnea or positional apnea.


Bilevel therapy

For those patients who gain no relief from using PAP, CPAP or APAP, bilevel therapy may be the answer. This works by providing a higher inspiratory and then lower expiratory pressure. It is also used to treat other respiratory disorders.


Oral appliance therapy


A form of treatment for patients with milder forms of sleep apnea, oral appliance therapy involves wearing a mandibular repositioning device (MRD). This special oral appliance is made by a dentist and helps to hold the lower jaw in a forward position while asleep. The protrusion helps to increase the area behind the tongue. This in turn helps to ensure that the airway is less likely to collapse while also reducing vibration on the palate.




Surgery can be used to treat the disorder but of course, there are risks involved. Uvulopalatopharyngosplasty (UPPP) is the most common used for obstructive sleep apnea, but it has a fairly low success rate.


Should you suffer from the disorder, your doctor will direct you to a specialist who will help to find the correct treatment for you.

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