WebMD Logo Icon
WebMD Connect to Care helps you find services to manage your health. When you purchase any of these services, WebMD may receive a fee. WebMD does not endorse any product, service or treatment referred to on this page. X

Moderate Sleep Apnea: Definition and Treatment Options

By Jennifer Daluro
Moderate sleep apnea can worsen chronic health problems and cause life-threatening diseases as well. Here are some treatment options to help control the condition.

Do you experience snoring or episodes of choking and gasping for air that awaken you during sleep? Are you often complaining of restless sleep, daytime sleepiness, or morning headaches? If so, you could have sleep apnea, a condition that requires medical attention to preserve your health and wellbeing. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of the disorder, which is also typically classified as mild, moderate, or severe upon diagnosis. Read on for more about moderate sleep apnea and its common treatment methods.

What is Moderate Sleep Apnea?

One important measure that doctors use to determine the severity of sleep apnea is the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI). This scale totals up the number of apnea episodes (complete breathing stoppages lasting 10 seconds or more) and hypopnea episodes (partial losses of breath lasting 10 seconds or more) that a patient has during one night. This figure is then divided by the number of hours slept. In other words, your AHI will tell you the average number of times your breathing is interrupted per each hour of sleep.

Moderate sleep apnea is characterized by an AHI score of between 15-30. An AHI is formally observed or recorded and calculated using either a laboratory or home-based sleep study. 

You may also snore if you have the condition. "Snoring happens when tissues in your throat relax, and air tries to pass through. This causes a vibration that escapes as a noise—a.k.a. snoring,” Chad Denman, DMD, a sleep specialist at Sleep Cycle Center, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“If the tissues in your throat relax too much, it means you might not be getting enough oxygen to your brain. Normal oxygenated air is 21% oxygen. Anything lower than 19.5% oxygen and the body will show hypoxia (low oxygen). Chemoreceptors in the brain will start firing, which tells your body to start breathing. If you are sleeping during this process, your body could be woken up. Therefore, low oxygen levels have a direct correlation to good sleep," Denman explains. 

According to Mayo Clinic, sleep apnea is a serious health problem that can cause many complications. It causes daytime fatigue and also increases your risk of developing heart problems, type 2 diabetes, abnormal cholesterol levels, and liver problems.

If you don’t get treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, the complications can even result in heart attack and stroke.

Moderate Sleep Apnea Treatment Options

Sleep apnea is more common in overweight individuals. Extra fat around the throat area may block the airway and contribute to symptoms. If you're overweight and suffering from mild to moderate sleep apnea, losing weight can help correct the problem. But if losing weight doesn’t improve your sleep apnea symptoms, you'll likely need to pursue other therapeutic options. 

Common devices used to treat moderate sleep apnea include the following: 

1. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Devices 

CPAP therapy is the most common treatment prescribed for moderate to severe sleep apnea. These machines emit pressurized air that keeps your airway open during sleep.

A sleep mask is fitted over your nose and/or mouth. It’s hooked to the CPAP’s machine compressor via a tube and releases a steady yet soft jet of air. The pressure keeps your airway open, so you can breathe normally during sleep without pauses.

Your individual CPAP pressure settings will depend on the severity of your sleep apnea.

2. Adaptive Servo-Ventilation (ASV) Machines

ASV devices adjust pressurized air to your breathing and can be used by people with central sleep apnea and those with obstructive or complex sleep apnea, according to the American Association of Sleep Technologists. 

Central sleep apnea is one of the three types of sleep apnea. Unlike obstructive sleep apnea, which is caused by tissue blockages in the airway, central sleep apnea is caused by improper communication between the brain and respiratory muscles. Complex sleep apnea has characteristics of both obstructive and central sleep apnea. 

ASV is similar to CPAP in that both treatment methods require you to wear a mask while sleeping. However, ASV machines study your respiration pattern. As you sleep, they release pressurized air that’s constantly adjusting to your breathing during sleep.

In a way, ASV machines can be thought of as a newer and smarter type of CPAP.

3. Oral appliances 

Oral appliances are maskless sleep apnea devices that are fitted over your upper and lower teeth.

The main function of these oral sleep apnea treatment devices is to apply a gentle, forward pressure on your lower jaw and tongue. This pressure repositions these body parts to open up your airway and allow you to breathe more freely during sleep. It also reduces the risk of floppy tissues blocking your airway.

"Sleep apnea is definitely treatable at any stage. We have seen great success with our patients who use an oral device. Due to this success, whenever possible, we always recommend an oral appliance. For some patients, it is not the best fit, but for most, they are more compliant with an oral device than a CPAP machine. By administering a sleep test, we are able to see which option would be the best fit for their sleep apnea treatment," Denman says.

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.