Sleep Apnea

Preparing for your appointment

Because appointments can be brief, and because there’s often a lot of ground to cover, it’s a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment.

What you can do:

  • Write down any symptoms you’re experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.

  • Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes

  • Bring a list of all medications, as well as any vitamins or supplements that you’re taking.

  • Bring a family member or friend along, if possible. Sometimes it can be difficult to soak up all the information provided during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot. And because your bed partner may be aware of your symptoms than you are, it may help to have him or her along.

  • Write down questions to ask your doctor. Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your visit. List your questions from most important to least in case time runs out.

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. You will need to fill out a Sleep Questionnaire.

What you can do in the meantime

  • Try to sleep on your side. Most forms of sleep apnea are milder when you sleep on your side.

  • Avoid alcohol close to bedtime. Alcohol worsens obstructive and complex sleep apnea.

  • If you’re drowsy, avoid driving. If you have sleep apnea you may be abnormally sleepy, which can put you at higher risk of motor vehicle accidents. At times, a close friend or family member might tell you that you appear sleepier than you feel. If this is true, try to avoid driving at all.

Treatments and Drugs

For milder cases of sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes such as losing weight or quitting smoking. If these measures don’t improve your signs and symptoms or if your apnea is moderate to severe, a number of other treatments are available. Certain devices can help open up a blocked airway. In other cases, surgery may be necessary.

Therapies

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). If you have moderate to severe sleep apnea, you may benefit from a machine that delivers air pressure through a mask placed over your nose while you sleep. With CPAP, the air pressure is somewhat greater than that of the surrounding air, and is just enough to keep your upper airway passages open, preventing apnea and snoring.

Although CPAP is a preferred method of treating sleep apnea, some people find it cumbersome and uncomfortable. With some practice, most people learn to adjust the tension of the straps to obtain a comfortable and secure fit. You may need to try more than one type of mask to find one that’s comfortable. Some people benefit from also using a humidifier along with their CPAP system.

Don’t just stop using the CPAP machine if you experience problems. Check with your doctor to see what modifications can be made to make you more comfortable. Additionally, contact your doctor if you still snoring despite treatment or begin snoring again. If your weight changes, the pressure settings may need to be adjusted.

  • Adjustable airway pressure devices. If CPAP continues to be a problem for you, you may be able to use a different type of airway pressure device that automatically adjusts the pressure while you’re sleeping. For example, units that supply bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) are available. These provide more pressure when you inhale and less when you exhale.

  • Oral appliances. Another option is wearing an oral appliance designed to keep your throat open. CPAP is more effective than oral appliances, but oral appliances may be easier for you to use. Some are designed to open your throat by bringing your jaw forward, which can sometimes relieve snoring and mild obstructive sleep apnea.

A number of devices are available from your dentist. You may need to try different devices before finding one that works for you. Once you find the right fit, you’ll still need follow up with your dentist at least every six months during the first year and then at least once a year after to ensure that the fit is still good and to reassess your signs and symptoms.