Sleep apnea (apnea from the Greek meaning “without breath”) is a sleep disorder characterized by frequent pauses of breathing during sleep. These pauses can occur up to a hundred times a night, and can last as long as a minute each. Generally, sleep apnea is a chronic disorder, meaning once diagnosed, it lasts a lifetime. According to the National Institutes of Health, there are no sleep apnea cures. Treatments exist, however, that so dramatically reduce the severity of the disorder, that the patient is “cured” of many of the effects of sleep apnea.
Three types of sleep apnea have been defined: obstructive, central and mixed. Of the three, obstructive is the most common, characterized by physical obstructions of the airway. Possible sleep apnea cures for this type of sleep apnea range from lifestyle changes to surgery. Limiting alcohol, using a special pillow, losing weight, and quitting smoking can reduce the sleep apnea symptoms. Oral appliances can be possible sleep apnea cures by keeping the airway open, and preventing the jaw and/or tongue from relaxing to cause obstructions.
Most often used of the sleep apnea cures are the CPAPs, or continuous positive airway pressure machines. These do not cure sleep apnea so much as provide methods to prevent sleep apnea events from occurring. They work via a medical pump, which, through a flexible tube attached to a facemask, pushes a controlled stream of air into the patient’s airway during sleep. The air acts as a splint to keep the airway open, much the way air inflates a balloon.
Surgery is often proposed as one of the sleep apnea cures. There are procedures that can remove tissue, widen airways, etc. to prevent obstruction of the airway, thereby providing sleep apnea cures. To affect these surgical sleep apnea cures the surgeon may remove tonsils, adenoids or excess tissue at the back of the throat or inside the nose. In addition, the surgeon may reconstruct the jaw. The procedure for these surgical sleep apnea cures can involve a scalpel, a laser, or a microwaving probe.
Surgical therapy as a sleep apnea cure for obstructive sleep apnea is based on identifying the sites of airway obstruction, possibly the nose, the soft palate and the tongue. Most of those procedures have been used for years and clinical outcomes have verified their use. New techniques are continuously being evaluated and are only utilized when there is sufficient medical evidence to support efficacy and safety.
Surgical sleep apnea cures may remove the basic cause of obstructive sleep apnea, but there are several points to consider. First, undergoing anesthesia and an operation is always a risk to the patient. In addition, it is possible that one surgery will not relieve the entire problem, thus requiring a sequence of surgeries over time. If the surgical sleep apnea cures are unsuccessful, they may impede the effectiveness of other kinds of sleep apnea treatments. Lastly, the side effects of surgical sleep apnea cures can be severe, such as pain and swelling of the throat.