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There are a few things you’ll want to do as soon as you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea:

  1. Realize that you’re not alone
  2. Know how severe your apnea is
  3. Get support
  4. Get treatment that matches the cause of your apnea

In this comprehensive article we’ll cover each of these, step by step.

Step One: Realize that you’re not alone in having sleep apnea

realize_youre_not_aloneThe first thing you should do is not to panic about your recently-diagnosed condition.  Not that the high prevalence of this sleep disorder is meant to offer you any consolation, but you might like to know that it currently affects 18 million American adults. 

In fact, you might even consider yourself lucky – because this  potentially dangerous sleep disorder usually remains undiagnosed since the symptoms usually show up only during sleep. It’s good that your condition was diagnosed, since undiagnosed and therefore untreated sleep apnea can result in:

  • Rise in blood pressure, risk of heart attack, strokes, obesity and diabetes
  • Increased risk and worsening of heart failure
  • Irregular heart beats
  • Increased risk of sleep-related accidents, primarily because of excessive daytime sleepiness, one of the main outcomes of the disorder.

Step Two: Know how severe your sleep apnea is

ahi_scaleSleep apnea treatments depend heavily on the severity of the condition and the location of obstruction in the upper respiratory tract. If you’ve done a sleep study, the severity of your apnea will be in your sleep study results report.

One of the most important piece of data from the sleep study is the apnea-hypopnea index, or AHI. The AHI is an index of the severity of sleep apnea, that combines the values of apneas (pauses in breathing) and hypopneas (numbers of shallow breathing episodes). It is calculated by dividing the number of events by the number of hours of sleep. Criteria for evaluation:

  • Mild sleep apnea = AHI between 5 and 15
  • Moderate sleep apnea = AHI between 15 and 30
  • Severe sleep apnea = AHI 30 or more

Step Three: Get support

support_of_friendsFirst of all, to get to know others who are suffering as much as you, if not more, visit this link of American Sleep Apnea Association.  Over and above their web site and resources like their newsletter called Wake up Call, publications, videos, etc, you can get their support in various forms:

  • Get familiar with A.W.A.K.E Groups: A.W.A.K.E. stands for Alert, Well, And Keeping Energetic. Joining this group is free. Established in 1990, there are numerous such education and support groups located in every state bringing apnea patients in one platform. This support group can offer you tools so that you manage your condition better. With their current database, you can easily locate a support group close to your home.
  • What can you expect from an A.W.A.K.E Group? You come to understand that you are not alone fighting the illness; you get authentic and medically-approved information about the condition and its management; you get an opportunity to be heard and ask questions to other sufferers. All these initiatives can help you stay with the recommended therapy and make it work for you. Even if you have not yet started to receive treatment, you too can join.
  • How do these support groups function? There are usually patient volunteers and health professions who work as coordinators who find experts to speak on a range of subjects pertaining to the disease. These include new research, what to expect from each treatment option, importance of weight loss, etc. The groups decide their meeting frequency (monthly, weekly etc).

You too could start an A.W.A.K.E Group in your locality! If you have the initiative and the drive to bring people together, who are suffering from similar problems, this is the time to show your leadership abilities and show others how one can live with sleep apnea. Learn about how to start a support group to help your friends and neighbors who have also been diagnosed with sleep apnea by visiting American Sleep Apnea Association site.

What are the other steps you can take to talk to other apnea patients?

  • Join the Apnea Support Forum.  With 3000 daily visitors, the forum is a valuable resource for any apnea patient. Here patients answer each other’s  questions and you could find what you are looking for by searching the several categories like CPAP and CPAP-mask related topics, sleep studies, monitoring progress of therapy, etc.
  • You could also access the latest information about sleep apnea from Apnea Association’s page on Facebook.
  • American Sleep Apnea Association website also has links that provide you with information that can help you deal with insurance issues.

Hopefully the above information gives you some great ideas for how to access a support group in your local area.  Let’s now turn to the options available for the management of sleep apnea.

Step Four: Get treatment that matches the cause of your apnea

matching_treatment_to_conditionWhy did you get sleep apnea? There are plenty of obstructive sleep apnea causes, including:

  • Obesity (which leads to excess fatty tissue in the upper airway)
  • Old age (which leads to the tissue in the upper airway becoming flabby)
  • Deviated septum
  • Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
  • Tongue, soft palate, or uvula is too large
  • Jaw is too small

If your condition is mild to moderate, there are MANY things you can do to reduce (or completely eliminate) your sleep apnea. Here’s a great list:

  • Changing the way you live, eat and drink: Making some lifestyle changes can be one of the most effective treatment options that majorly impact your health and improve mild to moderate apnea symptoms. Examples include:
  • Quitting alcohol and smoking as these narrow the air passage further and aggravate obstruction. Smoking also results in water retention that results in airway obstruction. Alcohol over-relaxes the breathing muscles causing them to collapse during sleep and block the air passage.
  • Gargling with warm saline water can reduce the dimensions of enlarged tonsils.
  • Avoid consuming bananas and dairy products that may increase mucus production in nasal passage.
  • Lose weight. by physical exercise and diet control. Since obesity is one of the prime causes of snoring and subsequently sleep apnea, losing weight could be an important self-help strategy to control sleep apnea.Even a loss of small amount of body weight can improve throat restrictions during sleep.
  • Avoiding caffeine, sleeping pills and other types of sedatives can be one of the most plausible therapy options for which you do not need any doctors’ help.
  • Apnea episodes reduce when you get enough sleep. The way to get it is to have fixed sleep hours and have a regular sleeping schedule.
  • Changing sleeping posture (from back to the sides or abdomen). The normal tendency is to snore when lying on the back. Sleeping on the back can also aggravate apnea symptoms. Changing positions or sleeping on the sides can often bring great relief to mild sleep apnea.
  • Saline nasal spray, nasal dilators, breathing strips keep the nasal airway open during sleep. This simple option works well for mild cases and when the obstruction is in the outer nasal areas. Nasal decongestants like saline nasal sprays can keep the nasal pathway open. Antihistamines can also help.
  • Learn and practice sleep apnea exercises. Toning and strengthening the otolaryngologic muscles (belonging to throat, nose and mouth) is the prime aim of these exercises, as these muscles are the ones that block the air passage by becoming weak and flaccid.  Some examples of such exercises include playing the didgeridoo, singing therapy, etc. These throat exercises primarily focus on the movements of the soft palate, palatopharyngeal arch, tongue and nasopharynx. Studies reveal that oropharyngeal exercises significantly reduce severity and symptoms of sleep apnea. Then there are special exercises for the jaw and tongue as well.
  • Homeopathy can offer one of the most side-effect free  cure options. Believers have used lachesis and homeopathic opium for getting substantial relief from sleep apnea symptoms.
  • One of the other trusted natural therapies is the use of aroma or floral therapy. Essence of vervain flowers has a soothing effect on obstructive sleep apnea symptoms.
  • Malfunctioning of the serotonin system can result in sleep apnea. 100 to 300 mg of 5-HTP at bedtime can bring great relief from breathing problems during sleep.
  • Breathing exercises included in yoga can also help in clearing blocked air passages.
  • Natural therapy options include herbs like Avena sativa, Scuttelaria laterifolia and Passiflora incarnate. These have been used for centuries for sleep apnea cure as well as for other chronic sleep problems.
  • One could also use a combination of herbs and sleep-promoting ingredients like Hypericum perforatuma, Schizandra chinesis, Calcium lactate, Magnesium lactate and Vitamin B6. These in totality can offer a very viable sleep apnea treatment option.  It is important to remember that such solutions corrects any imbalance of serotonin levels and improves both quality and quantity of sleep.
  • Yoga and acupuncture are some of the alternative therapies that have brought relief to many patients. Though the effect of acupuncture has not been studied extensively, healing is considered to be a result of fine needles being inserted to relevant parts of the body to relieve symptoms.


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