Sleep apnea, or obstructive sleep apnea, is a medical condition which affects breathing during sleep. It develops when the soft tissues of the throat become lax or loosened and descend into the airway, blocking it when a person is asleep. This can cause the person to snore, have reduced or troubled breathing, or stop breathing for short periods of time. The breaks in breathing may last only a few seconds or for longer periods of time. Many patients with sleep apnea experience these disturbances several times throughout the night, causing significant disruption to the sleep cycle. The condition may go unnoticed but can cause symptoms which wake or disturb the person including snoring, snorting, and especially choking.
Recent guidelines from the American College of Physicians (ACP) greatly encourage lifestyle changes, especially weight loss, for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. The ACP’s first suggestion is centered on weight loss for those who are overweight and obese. The connection between excessive weight and sleep apnea has been well established in medical history. Those who are overweight often have extra tissue in the back of their throat. These tissues are more likely to fall down into the airway and block the flow of air into the lungs during sleep. Losing weight is often easier said than done, but it can produce real results and the office can help patients to lose weight. Losing even 10% of body weight can have a significant effect on symptoms associated with sleep apnea. In some instances, losing a large amount of weight can even reverse the condition.
In addition to losing excess weight, those with milder sleep apnea symptoms may find it useful to wear an oral appliance or night guard during sleep. This helps to shift the lower jaw forward, keeping the airway clear of blockage. These guards are custom made for each person and are very comfortable. For those whose symptoms are more severe, laser therapy, surgery, and continuous positive airway pressure can be helpful options. These allow people to rest without the disruptions which cause them to gasp for air. When they are well rested they can use their energy to work toward losing weight and getting healthier.
Individual results may vary with treatment.
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