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Are There Any Maskless Sleep Apnea Treatment Options?

By Manjari Bansal
With advancements in CPAP mask design, you just might be able to find one that works for you. Your doctor may also recommend maskless oral appliances or surgery as alternative options.

There are a variety of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) masks, each designed for particular treatment needs and patient preferences. Some patients can also opt for maskless alternatives to CPAP therapy, like oral appliances or surgery. Read on for more about choosing the right sleep apnea mask as well as maskless sleep apnea treatment options. 

Choosing the Right Sleep Apnea Mask

“Choosing the right sleep apnea mask is both a clinical and a personal decision, and all about what works best for you and your lifestyle,” Carlos M. Nunez, MD, chief medical officer at ResMed, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“The most important first step is to determine, with the help of your doctor, if you tend to breathe through your nose or your nose and mouth while you sleep. There are many different styles suited to fit individual needs,” Nunez adds.

According to the American Sleep Association, there are basically three types of CPAP masks:

  • Nasal Pillows or Prongs that fit inside your nostrils
  • A nasal mask that fits over your nose
  • A full-face mask that covers both your nose and mouth

The American Association of Sleep Technologists notes that your doctor may recommend a specific type of mask depending on your preference, comfort, face shape, breathing pattern during sleep, and treatment needs. Here are some possible benefits of each type of CPAP mask:

Nasal Pillows or Prongs are beneficial if you:

  • Breathe through nose
  • Have a lot of facial hair
  • Require low-to-moderate pressure settings
  • Feel uncomfortable with larger masks

A nasal mask is recommended if you:

  • Need a higher air pressure setting on your CPAP machine
  • Move around a lot during sleep

A full-face mask is helpful if you:

  • Primarily breathe through your mouth
  • Have allergies or nasal congestion
  • Sleep on your back

“Size is also a contributing factor for choosing the right sleep apnea mask,” Kannan Ramar, MD, a sleep medicine specialist and former president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“Most companies that produce them will provide a variety of sizes to choose from as well as additional cushioning options,” Ramar adds.

Are Maskless Treatment Options Available?

Although CPAP is one of the most popular treatments for sleep apnea, “there are several possible treatment options for sleep apnea that don’t involve masks,” Jyoti Matta, MD, Medical Director of the Center for Sleep Disorders at Jersey City Medical Center, tells WebMD Connect to Care. Some such options are:

Oral appliances: “An oral appliance prevents your airway from collapsing by either holding the tongue or supporting the jaw in a forward position,” Ramar says.

Hypoglossal nerve stimulators: With this treatment method, a small stimulator is surgically implanted under the skin of the chest. It stimulates the tongue to move forward during sleep and open the airway, according to Cleveland Clinic.

Surgery: “The goal of surgery is to treat the areas of the airway that collapse and block your breathing during sleep. Surgery may stiffen, remove, or reposition tissues in and around your throat,” Ramar says.

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