Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which one pauses in between breaths or takes shallow breaths while sleeping. The pauses in breaths can last long enough to cause one to miss a few breaths. This condition could be caused either due to lack of effort or a physical block in the respiratory pathway. Sleep apnea disrupts one's sleep, which leads to daytime drowsiness and a feeling of extreme fatigue.
What is CPAP?
Continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP was primarily designed to help patients who suffer from sleep apnea. However, it is also used in hospitals for newborn babies or those who suffer from respiratory failures due to accidents or some illness. The machine works by increasing pressure in one's airway, so that it does not collapse while breathing in. The CPAP machine consists of a mask that covers the mouth and nose with pipes attached to it, that carries air into the device.
Need for Alternatives
Despite providing good relief from sleep apnea, many look for alternatives to CPAP. The mask and the hose look clumsy and some find it extremely uncomfortable to wear the appliance while sleeping. There are also side effects associated with CPAP. While some patients develop congestion in their nose, others may suffer from a runny nose, dryness of mouth and irritation of eyes and nose. It usually takes time for patients to adjust to this machine. Though quite a few patients adjust to it in some time, there are others who discontinue its use altogether.
Intraoral Dental Appliance: Statistics show that only 23% of individuals suffering from sleep apnea succeed in getting used to CPAP, that is meant to help them breathe normally while sleeping. This has made many patients look for alternatives to CPAP. Amongst the popular alternatives to this machine, are the intraoral dental appliances. These appliances consist of two U-shaped plates that are joined to form a hinge. These can be custom-made by a dentist or an orthodontist, according to one's dental measurements. It adjusts the lower jaw and tongue of a user, so that the air passage does not collapse while sleeping. There are lingual tabs that hold the appliance in place. As the intraoral dental appliances are less uncomfortable and also less visible than CPAP, these appliances are becoming increasingly popular with people suffering from sleep apnea.
Surgery: Surgery is another alternative to CPAP. Surgery aims at widening the breathing passage. This is done either by stiffening or shrinking the excess tissues in one's throat and mouth or by resetting the lower jaw. Surgical procedures to adjust the tissue may involve small shots or other treatments of the tissue. Shrinking the tissue may require a series of such treatments. The tissue in the mouth and throat is stiffened by making a small cut in the tissue and inserting a small piece of stiff plastic. One may require a week or two to recover from the pain of surgery. In case a child suffers from sleep apnea, removing the tonsils may help. However, it is best to wait for sometime to see if the tissues blocking the airway shrink on their own. These changes do take place as a child grows. However, it is best to follow a doctor's advice before going in for any kind of surgery.
Sleep apnea can cause a lot of discomfort not only to an individual but also to his family members, due to snoring, that is often associated with this disorder. However, from oral appliances to surgery, there are a lot of options for those who are looking for alternatives to continuous positive airway pressure.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by an expert on the subject.