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Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person's breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. This means the brain — and the rest of the body — may not get enough oxygen.
There are two types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): The more common of the two forms of apnea, it is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.
- Central sleep apnea: Unlike OSA, the airway is not blocked, but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe due to instability in the respiratory control center.
Am I at Risk for Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea can affect anyone at any age, even children. Risk factors for sleep apnea include:
- Being male
- Being overweight
- Being over age 40
- Having a large neck size (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women)
- Having large tonsils, a large tongue, or a small jaw bone
- Having a family history of sleep apnea
- Gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD
- Nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum, allergies, or sinus problems
What Are the Effects of Sleep Apnea?
If left untreated, sleep apnea can result in a growing number of health problems, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure, irregular heart beats, and heart attacks
- Worsening of ADHD
In addition, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for poor performance in everyday activities, such as at work and school, motor vehicle crashes, and academic underachievement in children and adolescents.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Gadgets and Devices
If you're one of the 18 million adult Americans diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea — a condition where your breathing is interrupted during sleep — your doctor may recommend a variety of treatments. Among the most common devices for sleep apnea are continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, mouth appliances, and specially designed pillows.
The goal of all sleep apnea treatment devices is to increase airflow to your lungs. Airflow is blocked when the muscles around the tongue and throat relax to cause a blockage that air can't get through. For mild apnea, a mouth device or other gadget may be enough. For more severe cases, the CPAP machine is usually recommended.`
- Mandibular advancement device (MAD). These look like a mouth guard used in sports. The devices snap over the upper and lower dental arches. Hinges make it possible for the lower jaw to be eased forward. This stabilizes the tongue and soft palate to keep the airway open.
- Tongue retaining device. This is sort of like a splint that holds the tongue in place to keep the airway open. It is not prescribed as often as the MAD. People often need more time to get used to these devices and don't find them to be as comfortable.
An over-the-counter "boil and bite" device is widely available online. You heat this device in hot water, then bite into it to customize it. The aim is to move the lower jaw forward and improve airflow, so you have fewer episodes of interrupted breathing.
But they may not work as well as custom-made devices. In 2008, researchers in Europe evaluated the use of custom-made and ''boil and bite" devices in 35 people with mild sleep apnea. Only the custom-made device reduced the average number of respiratory or apnea events per hour.
Before buying an oral device, talk to your doctor about which would be best for you.
Position Pillows for Sleep Apnea
Pillows to help relieve sleep apnea, designed to be used with the CPAP machine or without, are widely sold online. They come in various styles, including a wedge shape, which is designed to elevate your upper body.
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, sleeping on your back with your back elevated from the waist up may help keep your airway from collapsing and, in turn, reduce apnea events. Use foam wedges, not soft pillows, according to the ASAA.
Sleep apnea pillows that are designed to be used without CPAP position your neck so the airway is more likely to remain open. Pillows to be used with the CPAP are meant to make it more comfortable to use. Some have features that reduce pressure from the mask or keep the mask from rotating out of place.
A small 2010 study of pillow use with CPAP showed that they do improve comfort. But people in the study were no more likely to keep using their CPAP machines than those who didn't use special pillows.Do you snore? Stop breathing while sleeping?
TAP® 3 Elite for Snoring & Sleep Apnea
The TAP® 3 Elite is the newest addition to the TAP family of appliances for the treatment of snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Based on the same principle as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), the TAP (Thornton Adjustable Positioner) was designed to keep the airway open to allow for air to pass. A constricted or collapsed airway causes snoring and OSA. The TAP device holds the lower jaw in a forward position, preventing the soft tissue of the throat from collapsing and obstructing the airway to reduce snoring and improve breathing.
Each TAP device consists of an upper and lower tray that fit over the teeth. Fitting more comfortably in the mouth than the original TAP, the TAP 3 TL and TAP 3 Elite feature smaller hardware that provides more room for the tongue and allows the lips to close. On the TAP 3 TL, a hook mechanism attached to the upper tray fits into a socket attached to the lower tray and positions the lower jaw forward. Allowing for a greater range of lateral movement than previous designs, the TAP 3 Elite features a simple hook mechanism attached to the upper tray slides under a bar attached to the lower tray and positions the lower jaw forward. Three hook sizes offer increased range of adjustment. An adjustment key enables the patient to adjust the protrusion of the lower jaw while wearing the device until a comfortable and effective position is achieved.