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CPAP Machines vs. Snoring Mouthpieces

cpap maskIt is important to know the differences between these two types of sleep treatments. They may appear to serve the same purpose – to help you stop snoring – but as you will find out, there are subtle differences.

Snoring Appliances are mainly used to treat snoring, while CPAP machines are used to treat sleep apnea. So, what’s the difference? If you have sleep apnea, can you use an appliance?

Snoring Appliances and Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is caused by the lack of breath as a result of the closing and collapsing of the throat tissues while you sleep. When this happens, breathing ceases and your brain has to alert and wake you up so you can physically tense your neck muscles and breathe again. This can happen several or even dozens or hundreds of times a night, making you tired and groggy during the day, every day.

A snoring mouthpiece or dental appliance won’t normally help with this, because with regular snoring, your throat narrows due to the relaxation of your jaw and tongue, but rarely closes. This narrowing causes the tissues in your throat to vibrate, causing you to snore. A dental appliance helps adjust your jaw and tongue to keep your passageways open.

Other devices, such as a snoring chin strap, keeps your mouth closed during sleep. If you have sleep apnea, this could be extremely dangerous, due to your inability to gasp for breath.

Except for specially-designed mouthpieces used for sleep apnea, regular appliances don’t help. For that, you need a CPAP machine.

CPAP Machines and Sleep apnea

The role of a CPAP machine is to provide constant air pressure in the upper airway (throat and nasal cavity), to keep the throat tissues open and compliment the normal breathing process. In order to do this, you need a mask to fit tight onto your face.

A medical checkup from a sleep specialist is required to find out what you are suffering from, so that proper treatment can be administered. CPAP machines can cost several hundred or even over a thousand dollars, and are normally covered by your health insurance.

CPAP Machines at a glance.

CPAP stands for “Continuous Positive Airway Pressure.” It is the recommended treatment for people suffering from sleep apnea.

They work by providing air pressure in the air passage so that the throat tissues do not collapse causing an obstruction.

The machine has 3 parts:

  1. A mask: this covers your mouth and mouth
  2. A tube: this joins the mask to the machine. Air passes through this channel.
  3. The device itself: this is a portable machine that is placed beside the bed. It has regulators that control the air pressure entering the body. Air pressure may vary depending on the severity of the patient.

Concerns and changes that may arise while using CPAP machines:

  1. Sore throat.
  2. Nasal discomfort (e.g. blockages, sneezing).
  3. Skin irritation around the mask area.
  4. Vivid dreams (likely because you are sleeping more deeply, though some people complain of too much dreaming!)

Snoring Mouthpieces at a Glance

Snoring applianceSnoring appliances are also called oral appliances or dental devices. They are devices that are normally fitted by a dentist.

They are often used by those people who are intolerant of CPAP machines or who have been found to have mild sleep apnea. In the vast majority of cases, though, they are used by people to prevent snoring.

Oral appliances help to keep the air passage open. This is achieved by restructuring the lower jaw, the tongue and the back of the throat tissues so that they do not collapse and cause a narrowing of the air passage.

There are two ways of doing this:

  1. Mandibular Adjustment Device: Works by pulling the lower jaw forward when you are asleep.
  2. Tongue Retaining Device: Brings the tongue forward so that the back of the tongue does not collapse during the relaxation leading to an obstruction.

Both types need some time to get used to, and common complaints include dry mouth, jaw or tongue soreness, general discomfort and ineffectiveness.

It is best to find out what type of snorer you are first, then find a type of device that’s right for you. If you have sleep apnea, a CPAP machine may be your best choice. Whatever the outcome, the result should be restful and quiet sleep!

What is Sleep Apnea?

snoringSleep apnea is a sleeping disorder. Apnea is a Greek word that means “no breath”.

When you sleep at night, most of the muscles in your body relax, including those in the upper airways (i.e. throat and nasal cavity). When these tissues come so close as to narrow the airway, snoring results. When they completely close, obstructive sleep apnea happens.

During this episode, the lungs try to suck in air with no success. This causes a person to wake up gasping for breath. This is not a one-time thing and thus the person suffering from apnea may be forced to wake up several times (even dozens or hundreds of times) during the night. Often the sufferer won’t even remember these episodes.

If gone untreated, sleep apnea can be fatal. This is due to the body being forced to constantly “wake up” to gasp for breath. Not only does this result in constant lack of sleep, it is also not so good for those with heart conditions.

Causes of sleep apnea

  1. Being overweight: An increase in upper airway tissues narrows down the air passage and this limits the flow of air.
  2. Smoking: Nicotine and tar found in cigarettes destroy the mucous lining in the throat. The mucous protects the throat against bacteria. With no protection, the throat may become infected and swelling develops. The swelling causes narrowing of the airway.
  3. Taking alcohol before going to bed: Alcohol stimulates the body for longer periods. When a person goes to bed high, his/her muscles fail to relax. This causes unnecessary muscle expansion that leads to narrowing of the air passage.
  4. Allergies and Flu: Excess mucous is secreted when suffering from flu. This mucous creates blockage in the airway and flow movement of air is hindered which leads to apnea.
  5. Genetic makeup: People with narrow necks are more prone to sleep apnea. Having a narrow upper jaw may also contribute to sleep apnea because when the upper jaw relaxes at night, the neighboring tissues also do the same. Since the upper jaw is already narrow, apnea happens.
  6. Central sleep apnea: This is a less common disorder, where the brain mismanages the signals for you to breathe while sleeping. This usually happens in conjunction with other medical disorders.

Symptoms of Sleep apnea.

  1. Feeling sleepy during the day: this happens because a person’s last night sleep was disturbed by having to waking up regularly to gasp for breath.
  2. Snoring: this is caused by vibration of the upper airways as they come excessively close.
  3. Morning headaches: this may be as a result of the minimal oxygen flowing in the head at night.
  4. Emotional imbalances: When you sleep a lot of activity takes place. For example: the body muscles relax and the body also releases chemicals to heal wounds. When a person is sleep deprived, the body fails to regroup resulting to mood swings, anger and even being irritable.

Treatment for sleep apnea

Treatment falls into two categories:

  1. Lifestyle changes treatment.
  2. Medical treatment.

Lifestyle changes treatment

  1. Quit smoking.
  2. Lose weight. This is especially important if sleep apnea develops after one gains weight.
  3. Avoid taking alcohol before going to bed.
  4. Sleep on your side: when you sleep on your back, airway tissues come close and narrowing happens.

Medical Treatments

There are three forms of treatment for sleep apnea:

  1. CPAP Machines.
  2. Oral Appliances.
  3. Surgery.

CPAP Machines.

cpap maskThis is the most effective treatment for sleep apnea. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure.

This is a machine that helps a person breathe more easily at night by complimenting the normal breathing process.

The machine’s air pressure replaces those periods a person has to wake up to gasp for air.

The CPAP machine has 3 main components:

  1. A mask: This is strapped across to cover your nose and mouth.
  2. A tube: Air from the CPAP machine enters your body through this channel.
  3. The CPAP device: a lightweight machine placed besides your bed. It has controls that a person can use to regulate air pressure depending on the severity of sleep apnea.

The machine emits minimal sound which is appropriate at night.

Oral Appliances.

These appliances are also called dental devices. The appliances appeal to those people who find a CPAP machine very uncomfortable.

One common oral appliance is called MAD (Mandibular Advancement Device). A dentist pulls the lower jaw forward and then lowers it further than normal so that the upper airway remains intact during the muscle relaxation at night.

Surgery

This is often a last resort to treating sleep apnea. A person is often advised to seek a second or even third opinion.

The main purpose surgery is done is to increase the width of the upper airway.

It is worth mentioning that unlike other surgeries meant to repair an anatomical discrepancy, sleep apnea surgery does not guarantee a 100% eradication of sleep apnea. Recurrence of sleep apnea has also been reported.

Anti-snoring devices are not effective treatment for sleep apnea. This is because they only help reduce the snoring sound. They do not provide for assistive air like the CPAP machines do, since snoring is not accompanied by lack of breathing.