Snoring loudly through the night—it’s not just a comical representation of sleeping in cartoons, it could be the symptom of a serious respiratory condition. Obstructive sleep apnea, the blockage of the airway during sleep, not only causes snoring but can repeatedly interrupt one’s sleep as the afflicted person gasps for air. What’s more, obstructive sleep apnea can lead to headaches, sleepiness, and lethargy throughout the ensuing day, making it not an eight-hour but a 24-hour concern. Here’s a look at how to treat obstructive sleep apnea, from first-line responses you can do at home to procedures that can guarantee a long-term solution.
The first step toward getting restful sleep at night is to make some behavioral modifications during the day. It all begins, as it so often does, with diet and exercise. Losing weight and staying active should help to open the airway. Smoking cessation is a Pascal’s wager of treatment—reducing the harmful chemicals you put in your body may reduce your incidence of sleep apnea, but even if it does not, it’ll improve your general health. Reduce your alcohol intake and eliminate sleep-aid medications. Together, a regimen of healthier living may be enough to treat obstructive sleep apnea.
If your symptoms persist and you need to see your doctor, the most likely plan to treat sleep apnea is with a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machine which involves a mask you’ll wear over your nose and mouth at night. The pressurized air that the machine delivers keeps the airways open, allowing the wearer to sleep through the night uninterrupted by struggles to breathe. As beneficial as the CPAP mask can be, it does come with some slight imperfections that have dissuaded many sleep apnea patients from becoming wearers.
The noise that the machine generates as it operates through the night can be distracting, and light sleepers may awaken as intermittently from the sound of the CPAP unit as they did from the sleep apnea itself. Sensitive people may struggle to wear a breathing apparatus over the nose and mouth through the night and may begin to reject the treatment.
If a CPAP machine is not a comfortable or acceptable long-term option, a 21st-century surgical procedure may provide a permanent means to treat obstructive sleep apnea. Balloon sinuplasty, which involves using small balloons to strategically fracture thin and tiny bones around the sinuses, can aid in treating sleep apnea, snoring, and associated sinus conditions. By further opening the nasal passages, patients can breathe better and not have to rely on a “sleeping machine” to do what should come naturally. ENTs can perform this procedure in the office using only local anesthetic, and the recovery time can be as short as just a few days.