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Mild Sleep Apnea: Definition and Treatment Options

By Michael Howard
People with mild sleep apnea experience fewer breathing interruptions than those with more severe forms of the disorder. Learn more about the definition of mild sleep apnea and some common treatment options.

Sleep apnea is a chronic disorder that is classified as mild, moderate, or severe upon diagnosis. Mild sleep apnea is especially important to treat when it occurs with other conditions, such as high blood pressure or stroke. We spoke to an expert about what mild sleep apnea is and the treatment options that are available to address it.

What is Mild Sleep Apnea?

Those with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) experience repeated airway blockages and disrupted breathing during sleep. A mild sleep apnea diagnosis means that you experience fewer breathing interruptions per each hour of sleep than someone with moderate or severe sleep apnea.

“Mild sleep apnea is defined as someone having 5-15 breath-holding or shallow breaths per hour,” Seema Khosla, MD, FCCP, FAASM, and Medical Director at the North Dakota Center for Sleep, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “Mild only refers to this number—it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone has minimal symptoms.”

“Usually, if someone has mild OSA, we have a conversation about whether or not we should treat this,” Khosla adds. “This is largely dependent upon their symptoms or comorbid conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, stroke, etc.”

Mild Sleep Apnea Treatment Options

According to Mayo Clinic, the most common treatment for moderate and severe sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which involves a machine that supplies air flow through a face mask.

While CPAP therapy is also used to treat mild sleep apnea, it’s not always necessary.

“It really depends upon what the patient is willing to do,” Khosla says. “CPAP is the most common treatment modality but it certainly isn’t the only one. Oral appliance therapy (OAT) is a dental device that pulls the jaw forward to treat OSA.”

Another option is nasal expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP). This, Khosla says, consists of “a one-way valve that is either placed over the nostrils with an adhesive or placed inside the nose, paired with a nasal dilator. When you breathe in, the valve opens. When you breathe out, the valve closes almost all the way, trapping the air in your airway.”

Lifestyle changes can help you manage mild sleep apnea as well. According to Khosla, these might include:

  • Losing weight
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Quitting smoking
  • Avoiding alcohol and sedatives
  • Sleeping on your side or stomach instead of your back

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

Untreated sleep disorders can negatively affect 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.