Sleep apnea is a serious condition in which the patient repeatedly stops breathing while asleep due to obstruction of the airway opening. This condition rarely resolves on its own, and most patients will need some intervention to control their symptoms and protect their health.
Before pursuing treatment, however, patients must complete a sleep study in order to get a definitive diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea. There are other types of sleep apnea, but the treatments that minimize symptoms of the obstructive type are unlikely to be effective for the other types, so you should know what kind of apnea you have before consulting with someone who treats this condition, such as an oral surgeon.
Effective treatment will depend on the conditions that are creating the environment that helps the airway obstruction to occur. In some patients, obesity may be a primary culprit with the accumulation of excess tissue in the neck. These patients may find that their symptoms improve somewhat with weight loss.
For other patients, the structure of the jaw or excess soft tissue in the throat near the airway opening may increase the likelihood of apneic episodes. In these cases, an oral surgeon may need to be involved to correct the problem.
Patients can try to use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask to manage apnea symptoms. This device is worn during sleep and it forces air into your airway to keep it open while you are sleeping. While a CPAP is highly effective, many patients don’t tolerate it well because it can be uncomfortable and interfere with sleep.
Patients who find the CPAP to be an unsatisfactory solution may consider surgical interventions to alter the mouth structure, such as repositioning the jaw so that it stays more forward during sleep or excising excess soft tissue at the rear of the throat.
If you’ve been suffering from any symptoms of sleep apnea, such as excessive loud snoring, daytime drowsiness or frequent headaches or sore throats upon waking, don’t ignore them. Sleep apnea will not go away with time. Complete a sleep study to determine a diagnosis of obstructive apnea, and then contact our office to schedule a consultation to discuss your treatment options.