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Sleep Apnea Treatments

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on November 05, 2019

Sleep apnea is when you stop breathing while you sleep.

Treatments can include lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or changing sleep positions; medical devices like CPAP machines; or surgery.

Treating Sleep Apnea at Home

You may be able to treat mild sleep apnea with some lifestyle changes. Your doctor may recommend that you:

  • Lose weight. About half of all people with sleep apnea are overweight or obese. If you have some extra weight, slimming down -- even by a few pounds -- can often improve your symptoms.
  • Not use alcohol and sleeping pills. They decrease the muscle tone in the back of your throat, which can interfere with air flow.
  • Change sleep positions. You may breathe easier if you stay off your back. Here’s a trick to keep from rolling over: Put two tennis balls into a tube sock and pin it to the back of your PJs.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking can increase swelling in your upper airway, which may make both snoring and apnea worse.
  • Treat allergies. Nasal allergies swell the tissues in your airways and make them narrower, so it’s harder to breathe. Ask your doctor how to get them under control.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

With continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), you wear a mask over your nose and/or mouth while you sleep. The mask is hooked up to a machine that delivers a constant flow of air into your nose. This airflow helps keep your airways open so you can breathe the way you should. CPAP is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. Bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) is similar to CPAP. But the airflow changes when you breathe in and out.

Oral Appliances for Sleep Apnea

Dental devices can help keep your airway open while you sleep. Dentists with special expertise in treating sleep apnea can design them for you.

Surgery for Sleep Apnea

You might need surgery if you have a medical condition that makes your throat too narrow. These conditions include enlarged tonsils, a small lower jaw with an overbite, or a deviated nasal septum (when the wall between your nostrils is off-center).

The most common types of surgery for sleep apnea include:

  • Nasal surgery. This fixes nasal problems such as a deviated septum.
  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). This takes out soft tissue from the back of your throat and palate, making your airway wider at the opening of your throat.
  • Mandibular maxillomandibular advancement surgery. This fixes certain facial problems or throat blockages that play a role in sleep apnea.

Other Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

  • Somnoplasty. Procedures done in your doctor’s office can shrink and stiffen the tissue of your soft palate.
  • Upper airway stimulation (UAS). If you can’t use a CPAP, you might get a device called Inspire. It’s an upper airway stimulator. Your doctor puts a small pulse generator under the skin on your upper chest. A wire that goes to your lung detects your natural breathing pattern. Another wire up to your neck sends mild signals to the nerves that control your airway muscles, keeping them open. You can use a handheld remote control to turn it on before bed and turn it off after you wake up.
  • Medication. Drugs like solriamfetol (Sunosi) can treat the sleepiness that often comes with sleep apnea.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

National Sleep Foundation: "Sleep Apnea and Sleep,” “Sleep Hygiene.”

National Institutes of Health.

2005 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, Los Angeles, Sept. 25-28, 2005.

Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery: “Patient Selection and Efficacy of Pillar Implant Technique for Treatment of Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea/Hypopnea Syndrome.”

News release, FDA.

American Sleep Apnea Association.

Mayo Clinic: “Deviated septum.”

Tuomilehto, H. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, October, 2010.

Foster, G. Archives of Internal Medicine, September 28, 2009.

Vakulin, A. Annals of Internal Medicine, October 6, 2009.

Vasquez, M. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, October 15, 2008.

Oksenberg, A. Laryngoscope, November 2006.

Sheri Katz, DDS, president, American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine; dentist, Decatur, GA.

Texas Heart Institute Heart Information Center: "Obstructive Sleep Apnea."

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