Sleep Apnea

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Sleep apnea can make you feel irritable and tired all the time, and unable to concentrate. And if left untreated, it can lead to serious conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression. At UVA Health, you'll find the latest treatments for sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea Treatment at UVA Health

Our pulmonology experts treat sleep apnea. They offer a number of treatment options:

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) 

With CPAP, you wear a mask over your nose and/or mouth during sleep. An air blower keeps your airway open.

Find out more about what's involved with a CPAP machine.

A CPAP Alternative

If you struggle with using a CPAP machine, you may qualify for Inspire, a pacemaker-like device that keeps you breathing while you sleep.

Dental Appliance

In some cases, wearing a dental appliance can help keep the tongue or jaw in a more forward position. This may help keep your airway open as you sleep.

Surgery for Sleep Apnea

Your doctor may recommend surgery. It's most often beneficial in children with sleep apnea.

The types of surgery that treat sleep apnea include:

  • Adenotonsillectomy — removal of adenoids and tonsils
  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty — removal of excess soft tissue from the nose and/or throat
  • Maxillomandibular advancement — moving your jawbone forward
  • Tracheotomy — for life-threatening cases of sleep apnea, an opening is made in the windpipe

Weight-loss surgery (bariatric surgery) may help with weight loss and reduce complications related to obesity.

Things You Can Do At Home

You can lessen your symptoms by:

  • Avoiding sedatives, sleeping pills, alcohol and nicotine
  • Sleeping on your side instead of your back
  • Using pillows to increase your level of comfort when sleeping

Types of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea occurs when your breathing stops for brief periods of time during sleep. It can last for 10-30 seconds and may occur up to 20-30 times per hour. During one night of sleep, this can add up to 400 episodes of interrupted breathing.

Treatment often depends on which type of sleep apnea you have:

  • Obstructive apnea — caused by a temporary, partial or complete blockage of the airway
  • Central apnea — caused by a temporary failure to make an effort to breathe
  • Mixed apnea — a combination of the first two types

Are You at Risk?

Your risk goes up with: 

  • Male gender
  • Middle age or older
  • Obesity
  • Large neck circumference
  • Family history of apnea
  • Structural abnormalities of the nose, throat or other parts of the respiratory tract, like:
    • Polyps
    • Severely enlarged tonsils
    • Deviated nasal septum
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Using sedatives and sleeping aids
  • Using alcohol
  • Smoking

Do You Need a Sleep Study?

An overnight sleep study (polysomnography), tells us if you have sleep apnea and shows how severe it is. As you sleep, we'll measure your:

  • Eye and muscle movements
  • Brain activity (electroencephalogram)
  • Heart rate
  • Breathing (pattern and depth)
  • Percent saturation of your red blood cells with oxygen

Find out what to expect during a sleep study and get answers to your frequently asked questions.