Sleep Apnea - Health Education - Fairview Health Services
 
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Sleep Apnea - Health Education

Suffering from sleep apnea?

An estimated 20 million people in the U.S. have some form of sleep apnea. For those with obstructive sleep apnea, a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is often the life-changing answer.

The CPAP provides a gentle stream of air into your nose while you’re sleeping, preventing airway obstructions that often cause sleep apnea. The vast majority of people diagnosed with sleep apnea that use a CPAP nightly report significant improvement in their sleep and overall health.

Some people don’t like to wear a CPAP because they worry that their spouse won’t like it or it’ll disturb their bed partner’s sleep. Others simply find it difficult to keep a CPAP on at night.

For these reasons, amidst others, more than one-third of sleep apnea patients don’t commit to long-term CPAP use. If you or your spouse is one of them, Conrad Iber, MD, program medical director of Fairview Sleep Centers, offers the following suggestions for improved comfort:
Refit or readjust

Once prescribed, the CPAP should be fitted and adjusted. The sleep technician is trained to help you—but bear in mind, it may take more than one visit. If you’ve never had your CPAP fitted properly, don’t hesitate to call your sleep specialist and ask for advice or a return visit if it isn’t working well. Once you get it readjusted, give yourself some time to get used to it.

Be patient

Establishing a new sleep habit may take several weeks of using the CPAP nightly. Don’t give up too quickly—once you get used to using the device, the benefits often outweigh any minor inconveniences.

Keep long-term goals in sight

Untreated sleep apnea can put you at increased risk for major health issues such as high blood pressure, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It can also make you too sleepy to function well during the day. Since this illness affects everyone in the family, it’s important that you work with your sleep specialist to find an effective form of treatment.

Try a different mask

In some cases, using a different sleep mask may help you. If you received your first CPAP some time ago, you may be surprised to learn how many new types of masks are available. Contact your sleep specialist or a Fairview Sleep Center to learn more about the latest models.

CPAP Alternatives

When all else fails, consider alternative therapies. At this time, use of a CPAP is still the “gold standard” for treatment of obstructive sleep apnea; however, if for some reason you’re unable to use a CPAP, you can talk with your sleep specialist about the following options:

Oral appliances

Mouthpieces—also known as oral appliances—may serve as an alternative in cases of mild to moderate sleep apnea. These small, retainer-like devices fit over the teeth and tongue, forcing the tongue forward, which in turn can minimize airway blockages. The appliance is customized for you with the help of a dental specialist and your physician, and is only worn while sleeping. Like the CPAP machine, it must be used nightly to be effective.

Weight loss

If you experience mild sleep apnea, modest weight loss with dietary management can be effective in improving snoring and occasionally eliminating sleep apnea. In patients with severe obesity, bariatric surgery may be more effective for weight reduction and control of sleep apnea. It’s important to note that while sleep apnea can occur in the absence of obesity, not all patients with obesity will experience a reduction in sleep apnea with weight loss.

Positioning

Some patients with mild sleep apnea will only have problems with snoring and sleep apnea when they're lying on their backs. In these cases, the use of a positioning device may be effective.

Surgery

Children with sleep apnea due to enlarged tonsils typically require surgery. For adults, surgery may be an option when other treatments have failed. Forms of surgery available to treat obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) – The most common surgery performed on adults with sleep apnea that entails removing excess tissue in the throat to make the airway wider.
     
  • Tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy – Removal of the tonsils or adenoids most often used in treatment of sleep apnea in children.
     
  • Maxillo-mandibular advancement – Moves the upper and lower jaws forward to increase the size of the airway.
     
  • Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) – Reduces the size of the tongue and other tissue that may be blocking airflow.
     
  • Palatal implants – Small plastic rods implanted in the palate make the soft palate stiffer and keep tissue from blocking the airway.
     
  • Bariatric surgery– Can promote weight loss and may improve sleep apnea.

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Our Providers Make the Difference
Fairview features nearly 4,000 providers practicing at over 200 locations throughout the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area and beyond. Fairview Clinics, University of Minnesota Physicians and our independent partner clinics provide an exceptional care experience, while lowering the overall costs of health care.
 
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