Sleep Apnea Treatments

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on June 08, 2021

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 people with sleep apnea are overweight. If you have some extra weight, you might also have extra tissue in your throat that makes it harder to breathe. Losing weight -- even a few pounds -- can often improve your symptoms.
  • Don’t 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 more easily 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 pajamas.
  • Stop smokingSmoking can increase swelling in your upper airway, which may make both snoring and apnea worse.
  • Treat allergiesNasal 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 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)

Bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) is like CPAP. But the airflow changes when you breathe in and out. You’ll wear a mask, which will connect the BiPAP machine to you. It'll use pressure to put air into your lungs. When you breathe normally, your diaphragm is pushed down so your lungs can fill with air. If you have sleep apnea, the BiPAP can help you breathe this way during sleep.

BiPAP is usually safe. But it isn’t right for everyone. If you have trouble breathing, swallowing, or staying conscious when you use it, talk with your doctor. They may be able to change your treatment.

Automatic Positive Airway Pressure (APAP)

If a CPAP machine doesn’t help or causes problems, your doctor may prescribe an automatic positive airway pressure (APAP) machine. It props your airway open while you sleep so nothing can block it. Different from the CPAP machine, the APAP machine adjusts how much pressure it gives you while you sleep based on your needs.

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.

Why You Should Treat Your Sleep Apnea

If you don’t, you might have:

  • Headaches
  • Sore throat
  • Snoring
  • Tiredness
  • Bad moods

More serious long-term symptoms could include higher chances of:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Complications from surgery

Show Sources


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News release, FDA.

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Mayo Clinic: “Deviated septum.”

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AAST: “5 Alternative Sleep Apnea Treatment Options.”

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