Sleep apnea treatment can be very effective at eliminating the dangers of the condition, and for most of the past three decades, sleep apnea treatment has meant a CPAP, pump and mask arrangement that pushes air into your throat and lungs. This can be very successful when used properly, but its discomfort and inconvenience mean that many people don’t use it as much as they should. Now there are many alternatives that can help people who do not want to use CPAP.
This page explains CPAP and gives background on some of its alternatives, but if you’d rather talk to Omaha, sleep dentist Dr. Roger Roubal about the sleep apnea treatment that is right for you, please call our Omaha office at (402) 493-4175 or click here to email Dr. Roubal for an appointment, and learn more about CPAP Alternatives.
What Is CPAP?
CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. It was invented in 1981 by a doctor who used a vacuum cleaner motor to force air into his patient’s mask. Although the principle remains the same, it has changed dramatically in the last three decades. There are now many styles of masks, quieter pumps, and accessories like in-line humidifiers.
CPAP is effective on both types of sleep apnea. It treats obstructive sleep apnea because the pressure of the pump pushes against the airway, giving it additional support. It also treats central sleep apnea because it keeps fresh air moving into the lungs whether or not your brain is telling your body to actively breathe.
Problems with CPAP
Although CPAP can be very successful, it often isn’t because of its other limitations. One of the main limitations is the discomfort many people report when using the mask. Sensations of being smothered, skin irritation, nasal congestion, headaches and earaches, chest discomfort, and more can make people reluctant to use their CPAP. Other people (or their partners) dislike the noise. This discomfort makes people use it less than they’re supposed to, which means they aren’t receiving its benefit.
It can also be inconvenient to travel with. The bulky machine is hard to pack and can be hard to get through security. For people who travel a lot, it may not be the best solution.
CPAP Alternative: Oral Appliance Therapy
Oral appliance therapy is a recently recognized CPAP alternative. Instead of putting on an air mask hooked by a tube to a pump, all you have to do is slip the oral appliance in before you go to bed. This appliance holds your jaw in the proper position for giving your airway the support it needs to stay open. Oral appliance therapy is approved for mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea, and can be combined with CPAP in some cases. A variation on the oral appliance is the DNA appliance, which can permanently reshape you jaw and airway.
CPAP Alternative: Lifestyle Changes
For people with only mild sleep apnea, it may be enough to change some lifestyle factors that can contribute to sleep apnea and snoring.
Most important is weight loss. Weight loss reduces the weight of tissue pulling down on your airway so it is more likely to be able to support itself.
Also, drinking alcohol at night can cause or worsen sleep apnea. Cutting out alcohol in the evening can reduce or eliminate your sleep apnea.
Finally, changing your sleep position can reduce your sleep apnea. Sleeping on your back can worsen sleep apnea, so try sleeping on your side. Some people recommend sewing a tennis ball into the back of your pajamas to prevent you from rolling onto your back while you sleep.
Even if you are getting CPAP or oral appliance therapy, these lifestyle changes can improve the effectiveness of your treatment.