Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a disruptive condition with serious health consequences if left untreated. One of the leading forms of treatment is CPAP therapy, which involves a machine supplying air through a mask worn while sleeping. This keeps the airways open and prevents the heavy snoring and continual waking, often gasping for air, associated with sleep apnoea.
However, OSA sufferers can experience the condition to different degrees, from mild through to severe. Not everyone may be a suitable candidate for CPAP therapy, either due to prior medical reasons or simply because they find it difficult to tolerate when using.
Whether you have already been diagnosed with OSA or suspect you may suffer from the condition, it is useful to be aware of some of the alternative treatment options.
If you are diagnosed with a mild to moderate form of sleep apnoea, your doctor may first recommend some lifestyle changes. There is a strong link between this sleep condition and obesity, as extra tissue in the neck — and at the back of the throat — can block the airways.
By losing weight, you can lose this excess tissue and reduce the obstruction to the airways, allowing you to breathe more freely. Therefore, a healthy diet and a sensible exercise regime become important to help achieve weight loss, with patience being key as this can take time.
Exercise can also help people sleep longer and reach a deeper sleep.
Quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake can help reduce the symptoms of OSA, while making adjustments to your night time routine may also be of benefit.
Simple measures such as making sure your bedroom is dark — and only going to bed when tired — can help encourage sleep for mild OSA sufferers.
This is another lifestyle adjustment your doctor may suggest. Sleep studies do not generally monitor the position someone sleeps in, but sleeping on the back can make OSA worse.
This is because gravity pulls the tissues in the airways down, making it more likely they will become blocked. There are more in-depth sleep tests which can be run if there is the possibility that sleep apnoea may be position-dependent.
With positional therapy, you can wear a device around the waist or back which is designed to ensure you sleep on your side. Breathing should return to normal when in the side position, removing the OSA symptoms.
However, in most cases sleeping on the side may only reduce the OSA effects. While this is an improvement, it will not eliminate the OSA totally. Therefore, positional therapy may not be the complete answer, but could still be employed alongside other treatment methods.
Learn more about the Somnibel Positional Trainer, a new product now available: https://www.cpap.co.uk/somnibel-positional-sleep-therapy.html
Oral devices are a great alternative treatment option for OSA. The device looks like a mouthguard you would wear for sports.
One such appliance is the Mandibular Advancement Device, which is seen as a good alternative to CPAP therapy for those with mild or moderate OSA.
The device is worn at night and works by pushing the lower jaw down in order to open the airways up while you sleep. Some people prefer wearing these devices compared to a CPAP mask.
A tongue-retaining mouthpiece is one that also helps some people with OSA. This device sits on the tip of the tongue, resting on the lips, and adjusts the position of the tongue rather than the lower jaw.
Whichever form of oral device you choose, you’ll find it is portable and easy to transport. This also makes them a good option to have when travelling — even if you use CPAP therapy at home.
Learn about the Provent nasal device: https://www.cpap.co.uk/shop/alternative-osa-cpap-treatment-options/provent-sleep-therapy.html
Check the range of oral devices we offer: https://www.cpap.co.uk/shop/alternative-osa-cpap-treatment-options/mandibular-advancement-device-osa.html
A Musical Option
This one may seem a very alternative treatment option, but there is evidence supporting the use of playing woodwind musical instruments to help reduce the symptoms of OSA. Research has been carried out on the Aboriginal wind instrument, the Didgeridoo — finding that the severity of OSA is reduced for those who suffer with a moderate level of the condition.
As loose tissue and weak muscles around the airways can often result in OSA, playing a wind instrument helps strengthen those muscles and tissues, helping to prevent their collapse and leaving the airways open.
Although your partner and neighbours may prefer you to opt for a softer-sounding wind instrument to practice on, the Didgeridoo is good due to the exertion required to play this particular instrument.
More recent studies also indicate playing a double-reed instrument such as an oboe or bassoon may help reduce the risk of OSA.
A Surgical Option
If the treatment options for your OSA, including CPAP therapy, have not worked sufficiently, you have one more option — surgery. The success rate of surgery is 50% to 60% and can result in a fair amount of pain while healing (of course, you can take pain relievers during this time).
Surgery is aimed at the soft palate or other areas which may be causing the airways to block, including the tongue. One of the more common surgical procedures directed at the soft palate is Uvulopalatopharyngoplast (UPPP). With this procedure, excess tissue is removed to increase the width of the airways and improve how the soft palate moves.
The soft palate, tonsils and adenoids are tissues which may be removed in what can be a painful surgical procedure. Patients will be made aware that complications can arise with UPPP, including damage to surrounding blood vessels during surgery and swelling, bleeding, pain and difficulty swallowing following surgery.
It is for these reasons, as well as the overall success rate that surgery is viewed as a last resort in addressing OSA and is not very often suggested as a course of action by the NHS.
Another treatment option, not recognised by the NHS as of yet, is acupuncture. Although trials in China returned a positive effect, particularly from manual acupuncture, the lack of extensive research means it will not be seen as a real alternative to CPAP therapy at present. Anyone who feels it may be for them would therefore need to fund the treatment privately.
While CPAP therapy remains a leading treatment for OSA, there are a variety of alternatives which can be explored with a sleep doctor. This will depend on the level of the OSA experienced by the individual.
OSA is a highly disruptive condition which ultimately can lead to serious health consequences. A sleep test and a diagnosis are the first, vital steps to treating OSA and restoring your lifestyle.
Once the diagnosis is complete then you and your doctor can work out the relevant treatment plan to eliminate your OSA symptoms and restore you and your partner to a good night’s sleep, free of heavy snoring.
To order the Intus At-Home Sleep Test: https://www.sleeptest.co.uk/product/in-home-sleep-test/
To shop for the highest-quality selection of CPAP devices (and Oral Devices): https://www.cpap.co.uk/shop.html