Sleep Disordered Breathing, the obstruction of the airway when the body relaxes to fall asleep at night, is a frightening and widespread condition. It affects millions of men, women, and children. Often, because the breathing difficulty occurs at night, many of those suffering from Sleep Disordered Breathing don’t even realize it.
The medical community has determined that there are three degrees of severity of Sleep Disordered Breathing. Snoring is an indication of the onset or existence of some type of airway obstruction. Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome is accompanied by gastroesophageal reflux, asthma, depression, and is frequently found in women. Obstructive Sleep Apnea, complete airway obstruction, is common in older, overweight men and affects significant percentages of women and children as well. It can be fatal.
The risk factors and implications of Sleep Disordered Breathing. But before I get into all that, I would like to describe the treatment options and how the disorder is identified.
The primary objective in treating Sleep Disordered Breathing is to open the airway to allow a sufficient amount of oxygen into the lungs and bloodstream.
This is an interesting time to be discussing treatment. Because of recent discoveries, the opinions of health care providers are shifting drastically.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) was thought for many years to be the “gold standard” of treatment for Sleep Disordered Breathing. The CPAP is comprised of a mask that fits over the mouth and/or nose and connects to a tube leading to an air compressor that sits next to the wearer’s bed. The compressor forces air into the tube and then into the mask—shooting air into the nose and/or mouth, forcing the airway to open with the sheer pressure of the air coming from the compressor. Another air pressure treatment, nasal continuous airway pressure (NPAP) is accomplished through nasal cannulas—little tubes that sit inside the nostrils and are hooked to the same type of air compressor that sits at the bedside. This mode of treatment is best discussed with your physician.
Surgery, such as tongue reduction, surgical removal of the soft tissue at the back of the throat, removal of the uvula, modification of the palate, etc. is another treatment option. Some procedures are done at hospitals, some performed by oral surgeons, and others are in-office procedures. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine does not consider surgery an effective long-term treatment for Sleep Disordered Breathing, and surgical procedures are considered only 30 to 50 percent effective.
Oral Appliance Therapy, however, has come to the forefront as a very viable, scientifically-based treatment option for Sleep Disordered Breathing. The purpose of the oral appliance is to hold the jaw in a position that allows the airway to remain as patent as possible during sleep. Oral appliances are similar to athletic mouth guards, but are less bulky. They are completely non-invasive. Some patients report an increase in saliva production or minor discomfort upon awakening, but that generally subsides