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How to Treat Sleep Apnea

By Lan Pham, Adrienne Keller
Sleep apnea is a common disorder that can have serious consequences in the absence of treatment. Learn more about the therapeutic options for this disruptive sleep disorder.

Both obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA) can affect your sleep by interrupting proper breathing. Effective treatment for the condition can include continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, oral appliances, lifestyle changes, and more. Read on to discover which sleep apnea treatment option may be right for you.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Therapy 

CPAP machine therapy is “the most commonly prescribed treatment for sleep apnea,” Kent Smith, DDS and President of the American Sleep and Breathing Academy, tells WebMD Connect to Care. 

A CPAP machine delivers oxygen through a tube and mask that you wear while you sleep. “The machine forces continuous airflow through your nose to prevent the airway from collapsing when muscles relax during sleep, resulting in a continuous oxygen level throughout the night,” Smith explains. The machines can also reduce or eliminate snoring

Oral Appliance Therapy

Oral appliance therapy, which comes in the form of “a custom fit oral device, is a highly effective, non-invasive option for sufferers of sleep apnea and snoring,” Smith explains. Furthermore, “the device fits similar to a sports mouthguard and is comfortable, quiet, and easily portable for travel.”

Oral appliance therapy is often recommended for people with mild to moderate OSA who have not responded to CPAP treatment. More than 100 types of oral appliances have been approved by the Food & Drug Administration for the treatment of OSA and snoring.

Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulation

Hypoglossal nerve stimulation, also called upper-airway stimulation, may be another option if you have moderate to severe OSA that hasn’t responded to CPAP therapy, DukeHealth reports. 

With this cutting-edge treatment, three components are surgically implanted beneath the skin of your neck and chest:

  • A sensor close to your lungs reads your breathing patterns.
  • A stimulator in the neck area sends mild signals to the nerves controlling the tongue, which helps contract the tongue and throat muscles and shift the tongue and palate forward so that your airway stays unobstructed. 
  • A device similar to a pacemaker situated below the collar bone helps the stimulator turn on when you inhale and off when you exhale.

An external remote control is also used to turn the system on when you sleep, according to your preferences. 

Lifestyle Changes

For people with mild cases of sleep apnea, lifestyle changes may be enough to treat your symptoms, Mayo Clinic explains. Some lifestyle shifts your doctor might recommend include:

  • Weight loss
  • Smoking cessation
  • Treatment of nasal allergies
  • Alterations in sleeping position
  • Alcohol abstention during late night hours


In cases of severe OSA, surgery may be warranted. “Surgery is performed to remove or reposition the tissues in the throat to stop blockage of the airway,” Smith explains. If you are suffering from OSA and other treatment options haven’t been helpful, surgery may be needed to restore full and healthy nights of sleep.

“If someone has even the slightest concern that they may have sleep apnea, it’s recommended they get in touch with a sleep expert ASAP for evaluation and diagnosis as symptoms and side effects only worsen over time, until the diagnosis is treated. Once properly diagnosed, there are several treatment options available to address the disorder,” Smith adds.

Think you may have a sleep disorder? Start your journey to a more restful sleep TODAY.

Untreated sleep disorders can negatively impact your physical and emotional health. Sleep testing can help you get the answers you need to receive the treatment you deserve. WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.