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How To Treat Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a fairly common sleep disorder that can cause breathing interruptions while you sleep. In addition to causing episodes where you can stop breathing, this disorder can also cause you to get lower-quality sleep. If left untreated, it can have serious consequences for your health.

If you have sleep apnea or have symptoms of it, it’s important to understand its underlying causes and your treatment options. In this blog post, we’ll talk about potential treatments and symptom management. We’ll also talk about how your online primary care doctor at Circle Medical can help.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

If you have sleep apnea, your breathing may be interrupted multiple times throughout the night. There can be various factors that contribute to its symptoms. Understanding the reason for your sleep apnea can help you and your doctor develop a better treatment plan.

As mentioned, this condition left untreated can lead to serious health consequences such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, depression, weight gain and more.

Before we look at the causes, it’s important to keep in mind that there are two types of sleep apnea. One is obstructive sleep apnea, which is when there’s an issue with your breathing mechanics. Central sleep apnea is the other, which happens when your brain isn’t signaling your muscles correctly. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of this condition.

The most common causes of sleep apnea are:

  • Obstructions to your airway - Obstructions to your airways can make it more difficult to breathe while sleeping. This can include physical attributes like large tonsils, excess fatty tissue and narrow air passages.
  • Genetics - This disorder may be inherited, as numerous cases have family members who also have the condition.
  • Obesity - Excess weight can make it more difficult to breathe properly at night.
  • Allergies and congestion - Any conditions that cause sinus congestion could contribute to sleep apnea
  • Medications - Certain medications may also contribute to this condition. The same can be said for alcohol and illicit drug use

If you’re having trouble sleeping or exhibiting signs of sleep apnea, it’s best to consult your doctor to find the best way forward. Online primary care providers like Circle Medical can often get you in for an appointment on the same day, so you can get your treatment plan underway sooner.

6 Tips To Ease Your Symptoms

As mentioned, it’s best to consult your primary care provider if you have sleep apnea, as the condition can be serious.

Your treatment plan may include one or more of the following tips:

Lose weight

If you’re overweight or obese, losing weight may be a primary component of your treatment plan. Being overweight can reduce airflow in the throat and neck. It can also make your body work harder to breathe, which exacerbates the problem.

To lose weight, you will likely need to change your diet and incorporate exercise into your daily routine. A balanced diet full of vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats and complex carbs will help you to lose weight. You’ll also likely need to limit your intake of processed foods and foods high in sugar.

Exercising regularly will also help you reach your weight loss goals. Depending on your current state of fitness, this may just start with at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day, such as walking. The American Heart Association recommends getting at least a total of 150 minutes of vigorous exercise every week.

Circle Medical also offers Weight Loss and Weight Management clinical expertise, and can help you create a plan to help you succeed in reaching your weight loss goals.

Avoid alcohol

Alcohol consumption and drug usage can both exacerbate sleep apnea symptoms. Alcohol causes your throat muscles to relax, which makes it more difficult to pass air through your airways. Alcohol can also lead to weight gain, which we’ve covered as a contributor to this disorder.

In general, alcohol near bedtime can also reduce sleep quality. When you’re trying to treat sleep apnea, you want to stay on top of your sleep hygiene. We’ll touch more on sleep hygiene tips further down.

Sleep on your side

One tip that many sleep apnea sufferers recommend is to try to sleep on one side. Sleeping on your side can help open your airways and allow more air to flow in and out. Sleeping on your back can sometimes cause your tongue and soft tissues to obstruct your airways, so sleeping on your side could be a better solution.

If you’re someone who moves a lot in their sleep or rolls around, it could be helpful to use support pillows to help your body stay in the side-sleeping position. There are also special pillows specifically designed for sleep apnea that may be recommended for your treatment plan.

It’s important to be as comfortable as possible when falling asleep so you get better sleep quality. While side-sleeping may not be your preferred sleeping position, tools like sleep pillows can help you get more comfortable and adapt to the changes.

Practice good sleep hygiene

Practicing good sleep hygiene is a great way to help manage your sleep apnea. Good sleep hygiene practices involve adjusting your lifestyle and sleep environment to improve sleep quality. With good sleep hygiene, it should be easier to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. Here are some general sleep hygiene tips:

  • Stick to a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day
  • Avoid taking naps during the day
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol close to bedtime
  • Exercise regularly, but avoid doing it too close to bedtime
  • Avoid eating large meals close to bedtime
  • Try not to watch TV or use your phone in bed
  • Make sure your sleep environment is comfortable and dark
  • If you cannot fall asleep, get up and go to another room for a relaxing activity, like reading, until you feel tired, and then return to bed. This will help your brain form a connection between your bedroom and falling asleep.

By following these tips, you can help improve your sleep quality. Better sleep can also help with sleep apnea.

Use a CPAP machine

A CPAP machine (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) is a machine that provides air pressure to help keep your airways open while you sleep. You wear a mask, which seals around your mouth and nose, and just enough air enters to ensure your airways don’t collapse or get obstructed during the night. This is a common and oftentimes effective way to treat sleep apnea.

When using a CPAP machine, you will need to carefully follow the instructions to ensure your mask fits correctly and that you’ve adjusted the settings the right way. Doing so will help you get the maximum benefits from your CPAP device.

Unlike some of the other tips on the list, you will need to speak with your doctor to get a CPAP device. Your doctor will be able to determine if a CPAP machine is medically appropriate for your condition or if there is a better path to treatment. With conditions like sleep apnea, it’s always best to talk to your doctor before committing to a specific treatment route.

Try an oral appliance

Oral appliances are also common treatments for sleep apnea. An oral appliance fits in your mouth and covers the tongue to help open the airways.

Oral appliances may be recommended by your doctor for mild or moderate sleep apnea cases. A CPAP device is usually needed for more severe cases, as an oral appliance may not provide sufficient relief.

These oral appliances are typically made of soft material and designed to be as comfortable as possible for wearing at night. However, you must ensure a proper fit if you want them to work correctly. If your doctor recommends an oral appliance, they may refer you to a dental professional to get fitted for one. Since oral appliances can be minimally invasive, they are typically combined with lifestyle changes before looking into more invasive measures.

Still, you will need to talk with your primary care doctor to ensure an or oral appliance is best for you.

How Your Circle Medical Primary Care Doctor Can Help

Most people might be surprised to learn that you can take an at-home sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea from your own home. If you’re having symptoms of sleep apnea or have trouble sleeping, simply make a virtual appointment with an online primary care provider with Circle Medical.

Your online primary care doctor can help you in several ways:

  1. Intake and Analysis - You can schedule a 30-minute appointment from the comfort of your home. This will help your doctor determine if a sleep study is necessary from your symptoms and medical history.
  2. Sleep Study - You can take a sleep study from the comfort of your home. You will be sent a small device that you tape to your finger while you sleep. Through an app, your sleep will be recorded, and your doctor will get the information they need to determine the next steps.
  3. Treatment - Based on your sleep study, your doctor can determine the best path for treatment.

Once your doctor has your results, your treatment plan may be a combination of one or more of the steps we talked about above. Behavior modification like lifestyle changes and changes to your sleep environment may be enough. Or, your doctor will be able to make a recommendation for CPAP devices or other oral devices if medically appropriate. In rare cases, you may be referred to a specialist.

Get Sleep Hygiene Tips from One of Our Specialists

For most people, a plan to change your lifestyle and modify sleep behaviors will be enough! But sticking to a plan like this on your own can be difficult. With Circle Medical, you can have guidance along the way, ensuring you know the best way to practice good sleep hygiene.

Book an Online Appointment with Circle Medical Today!

Circle Medical is an online and in-person primary care clinic with virtual appointments that makes it easy and stress-free to see your doctor from home. Rather than dealing with in-person appointments, you can get help for most conditions through online care. Circle Medical can also get you in for same-day or next-day appointments rather than waiting weeks to get in to see the doctor.

With  200+ providers, we offer annual checkups, on-demand video appointments, specialist referrals and more. If you’re having trouble sleeping or need to talk to a provider about another condition, book your online appointment with Circle Medical today!

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