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Can Speech Therapy Treat Sleep Apnea?

Posted On December 10, 2014
December 10, 2014

Although he was able to demand that Pharaoh let his people go, Moshe did so with a speech impediment believed to be a stutter. The man who went on to part the Red Sea was not alone in his “slow and hesitant” speech. England’s King George VI suffered greatly with the embarrassment of being a stutterer. Thanks to speech therapy, the monarch’s improvement in public speaking was made famous in the 2010 Oscar-winning best movie, “The King’s Speech.” And then there is country singer Mel Tillis who stutters to speak but not when he sings his legendary country songs. Believe it or not, research has discovered that stuttering and sleep apnea might have a connection. So question is: Can speech therapy treat sleep apnea?

Sleep Apnea Explained

First, it’s important to understand sleep apnea. When there is a partial or full obstruction of a person’s airway that prevents him or her from proper breathing during the night, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the culprit. The sufferer has pauses in breath lasting from seconds to minutes, and anywhere from 5 to over 30 times per hour throughout sleep. Apnea–hypopnea index (AHI) measures the number of breathing episodes and is the value used to determine sleep apnea severity: mild, moderate or severe.

Some symptoms associated with sleep apnea are:

  • Snoring
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory Loss
  • Fatigue

Research over the Years

In 2002, researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) happened upon an interesting fact, and their discovery was printed in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. They found that 40 percent of their sleep apnea patients were childhood stutterers. In addition, their study noted that these test subjects had disordered wiring in their brain that control the muscles used for breathing. The group concluded that speech impediments could be an important diagnostic clue for assessment and treatment of sleep apnea.

In many instances, the obstruction in breathing that is the cause of sleep apnea is the tongue. Dating back to 2007, a case report in the International Archives of Otorhinolaryngology shared how speech therapy, specifically myofunctional therapy, could be used to treat sleep apnea and snoring. By re-training the oral and facial muscles, sleep apnea sufferers learn how to position their tongue at rest. Thus therapy can help diminish their sleep apnea symptoms.

In 2009, exercises developed by a speech therapist to assist with swallowing, chewing, breathing and speech were evaluated. The results of this study in the American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine showed that participants who were treated with these exercises had a statistically significant decrease in their sleep apnea symptoms. There was a drop in the frequency and intensity of snoring, daytime sleepiness, AHI and sleep quality score.

Six years later, a study published in Sleep Medicine discovered that speech therapy alone and combined with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) helped improve the quality of life in people with sleep apnea.

If you suspect you might have sleep apnea and would like to learn about an individualized treatment plan, please contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 to schedule a free consultation.


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