How to diagnose, treat sleep apnea

Published 9:23am Friday, March 15, 2013

Get help

To help you get a handle on your husband’s problem, the American Sleep Apnea Association has several quick diagnostic tests he can take at – click on “diagnosis and treatment.” If you suspect a problem after taking these tests, he should try some self-help measures, including:

• Sleeping on his side or stomach: This will help keep his airways open. To promote side sleeping, there are products available that can help like the Rematee Bumper Belt ( and Sona Pillow (

• Losing weight: Excess body weight, especially around the neck, puts pressure on the airway, causing it to partially collapse. Even a slight weight loss may help.

• Avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills: These can relax the muscles in the back of his throat, interfering with breathing.

If his problem persists, make an appointment with his primary care doctor or a sleep specialist who will probably recommend an overnight diagnostic sleep test, which can take place at a sleep center (see, or at home using a portable device.

Treatment options

If he is diagnosed with apnea, the most commonly prescribed treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. This involves sleeping with a snorkel-like mask that’s hooked up to a machine that gently blows air up your nose to keep the passages open.

Another less invasive treatment option is Provent therapy ( This is a small, disposable patch that fits over each nostril to improve airflow. A 30-day supply of these prescription-only patches cost $65 to $90, but unfortunately, it’s not currently covered by insurance or Medicare.

If the CPAP or nasal patches aren’t an option, an oral appliance that fits into the mouth like a removable mouth guard or retainer may be the solution. Oral appliances work by positioning the lower jaw slightly forward to keep the airway open during sleep.

If these don’t work, there are also a variety of surgical options available to help keep the throat open and prevent blockages.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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