Can My Sleep Apnea Be Cured?
A common questions I hear from patients is can my sleep apnea be cured? Well, the short answer is probably not, because to cure something means to eliminate the disease/pathology completely. Although the causes of your sleep apnea can be addressed and treated in a variety of ways that will prevent sleep apnea from affecting your health. We'll explore a few treatments outside of CPAP therapy that can be of benefit to you and help you live your best life.
To fully understand what is best for the treatment of your sleep apnea, it is important to identify what type of sleep apnea you suffer from. There are two types of sleep apnea, Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common and is caused by tissue obstructing your airway making it difficult to breathe while sleeping. The second more uncommon type is central sleep apnea which is caused by the brain not telling your lungs to breathe while you sleep. There are a small percentage of people who suffer from both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
Before discussing what you can do to improve your sleep apnea, lets talk about what can be done to avoid making your sleep apnea worse! There are bad habits that many of us do on a normal basis that can worsen any case of sleep apnea. Consuming alcohol is probably the most common one. Alcohol contributes to not only a loss of balance, but also to a loss of muscle tone. This will cause the tissue in the back of your throat that is blocking your airway while you sleep, to sag down even more and cause a worse obstruction. Central sleep apnea is also affected by this, since alcohol slows the neuro-response it can cause the brain to send even less signals to your lungs telling them to breathe. This is not only true for alcohol, opiods, certain cough syrups, or any chemical that produces muscles relaxation will have this same effect. So if you suffer from sleep apnea, it is best to avoid the use of any drink or drug that will worsen your sleep apnea, unless it is absolutely necessary.
Smoking, vaping, hookah, allergies, or anything else that can irritate the back of your throat or airways can also contribute to worsening of your sleep apnea. When your neck and or airways became irritated they tend to swell which reduces the amount of space you have to take a breathe in. Imagine trying to breathe in and out of straw, as you can imagine it's not only going to be more difficult to breathe in and out consistently but also easier to block off since there's a smaller opening. The obvious answer is to avoid smoking and smoke all together to avoid the irritation. If you suffer from allergies, make sure your consistently take your anti-histamine to prevent inflammation from allergens such as pollen or animal hair. If your Dr. has prescribed you any type of steroid such as Advair, Qvar, Prednisone, make sure to take it consistently as prescribed! Steroids are very effective at treating inflammation.
Now that we've discussed what to avoid, lets talk about what you can actively do to improve your sleep apnea. As I'm sure you've heard your Dr. say, weight loss and diet can greatly improve your sleep apnea and is the least expensive way to do so! For some people, their sleep apnea can actually be cured from significant weight loss, so if you're looking for an actual cure it's best to start there. Although for a majority of people weight loss will alleviate symptoms but not cure it completely. So what can be done beyond that? More and more surgeries are being developed to help those who suffer from sleep apnea, and as technology improves these surgeries are becoming more effective.
Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty is a surgery where they reshape the oral cavity in a way that prevents obstruction. As you can imagine this is a very painful procedure, and not to mention has a success rate of about only 40%. To make matters worse, it tends to only be temporary for the people it is successful on, and the issue of sleep apnea returns in about 5-10 years time. Despite this, it is still the most common surgery for people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. It would have no affect for someone suffering from central sleep apnea. I personally would save myself the money trauma of going through this procedure.
Hyoid suspension surgery is a newer surgery that is being utilized to treat obstructive sleep apnea. It works by pulling forward the muscles attached to the tongue thus making a bigger airway and in theory relieving the obstruction. Since this is a newer surgery large scale studies have yet to be performed on the effectiveness of the procedure. Currently success rates depending on which study you look at tend to be anywhere from 27% to 56% so it's hard to quite gauge where it falls. The aim of the procedure is to ultimately reduce apnea events by 50% or greater so ultimately you could expect for the severity of your sleep apnea to be reduced but not completely cured. Once again, note this will only improve obstructive sleep apnea not central sleep apnea.
This next procedure is targeted towards people with both central and obstructive sleep apnea! Implantation devices that send electrical signals to your nerves is a new procedure that is being explored in many areas of health care, sleep medicine being one of them. In the case of obstructive sleep apnea, the device is implanted in your chest and will send electrical signals to the the muscles of your tongue to preserve the integrity of your airway while you sleep preventing obstruction. For those who suffer from Central sleep apnea, it will send electrical impulses to your diaphragm while you sleep which well stimulate a breath. Studies have shown that AHI were reduced by 50% or more in 51% of the patients who had this implantation. Once again it is not a cure, but it does seem to be a beneficial procedure with a quick recovery time.
The price for these surgeries range between $10,000 - $40,000 dollars. One common denominator that was seen in all these procedures was, those who had a smaller BMI had better success rates with their surgery which brings us back to our first point. Diet and weight loss is still one of the most effective and least expensive ways to treat your sleep apnea.
CPAP/Bi-Level therapy are still the most effective and utilized method for treating sleep apnea. Surgeries and procedure are definitely on the rise in the world of sleep medicine but none have been found to be as consistently effective as positive pressure therapy. Of course there is no one therapy that will fit perfectly with every patient, but I hope this entry has given you some guidance as to what will work best for you.