Sleep apnea may be treated with either surgical or non-surgical techniques, depending on the underlying cause of the problem and the preference of the patient. Some patients find relief with simple behavioral changes. Other patients may need to turn to surgical procedures to find restful sleep.
The process of finding an effective treatment for sleep apnea usually begins with the least invasive, non-surgical options. For some sufferers, simply changing the position in which they sleep can bring marked improvement. Because excess weight can be a risk factor for sleep apnea, patients who are overweight may be encouraged to lose weight to see if their condition improves as a result.
If the least conservative treatments are not effective, the next step is often the use of a CPAP machine. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. The CPAP device includes a mask that the patient wears at night. While he or she is sleeping, the machine delivers air under slight pressure. This pressure helps to hold back any throat tissue that may be sagging into the airway, which is often the cause of sleep apnea. While the airway is clear, the patient is able to have restful sleep.
CPAP machines are very effective in producing healthier sleep patterns and decreasing the harmful consequences of sleep apnea. Unfortunately, some patients do not tolerate them well. They may find the machines uncomfortable or intrusive, and some people find it difficult to use the CPAP machines correctly. Even though the CPAP device is the most effective non-surgical solution for obstructive sleep apnea, it will not work if the patient cannot tolerate it and therefore does not use it. In this case, surgery may be the next recommended step.
Some patients opt for surgery very quickly when more conservative methods are not effective for them. Others may use a CPAP device for as long as a couple of years and then decide that they would prefer the more permanent solution that surgery can offer. There are no standard time tables for the rate at which patients should move from one option to another as they seek an effective solution.
Once surgery has been decided upon, there are several options. These include laser-assisted uvuloplasty and uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. Another possibility is radiofrequency treatment of the palate. The purpose of all of these procedures is to open the airway and allow for unobstructed breathing during sleep. The specific surgery that is used for each patient will depend on the individual nature of the cause of that patient’s apnea.
Diagnosing and treating obstructive sleep apnea is vital if sufferers are to enjoy healthy, restful sleep. It does, however, often take time and patience to find the best solution for each person. With the options available today, patients can choose the level of treatment that is most effective while avoiding treatments that are too aggressive for their needs. From simple, non-surgical solutions to CPAP devices and surgery, there is a choice that will lead to relief from obstructive sleep apnea.