Sleep Apnea - Treatment Overview

Treatment for obstructive sleep apnea may include:

  • Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight. For more information, see Home Treatment.
  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or a similar machine that uses positive airway pressure to help you breathe.
  • Oral breathing devices or other devices (such as nasal dilators) that you wear at night.
  • Medicine to help you stay awake during the day. For more information, see Medications.
  • Surgery. For more information, see Surgery.

Your doctor will probably have you try lifestyle changes and CPAP first. Surgery might be a first choice only if the sleep apnea is caused by a blockage that is easily fixed.

Continuous positive airway pressure

CPAP is nearly always the first medical treatment for sleep apnea. With CPAP, you use a breathing machine that prevents your airways from closing during sleep.

Research shows that:

  • CPAP decreases daytime sleepiness.4, 5, 6 If you still feel sleepy during the day while using CPAP at night, tell your doctor.
  • CPAP can lower daytime and nighttime blood pressure.7

It may take time for you to be comfortable using CPAP. You may find that you want to take off the mask, or you may find it hard to sleep. If you can't get used to CPAP, talk to your doctor. You might be able to try another type of mask or make other adjustments.

Some CPAP devices automatically adjust air pressure or use different air pressures when you breathe in or out. They are easier and more comfortable for some people to use.

If you use CPAP to treat sleep apnea, you need to use it every night. If you don't use it, your symptoms will return right away.

Other devices to help you breathe

Oral breathing devices reposition your tongue and jaw during sleep, which opens up your airways. They may be used for people who have mild to moderate sleep apnea. They may also be used for people with severe sleep apnea who try CPAP but find out that it does not work out for them. A dentist will shape the device to fit your mouth.

Your doctor may suggest that you use nasal dilators (such as nose strips or disks) to help keep your airways open while you sleep. Nose strips widen the nostrils and improve airflow. Nasal disks have a valve that makes it harder for you to breathe out. This causes a little back-pressure in the airways that may help keep them open. You can get many of these devices without a prescription. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your options.


Treatment for other health problems

You may need to be treated for other health problems before you are treated for sleep apnea. For example:

You may also need treatment for problems that sleep apnea may cause, such as high blood pressure.

Treatment for children

Children have most of the same treatment options as adults.

  • Children who are overweight are encouraged to lose weight.
  • Surgery (removing tonsils or adenoids) typically is the first choice, because enlarged tonsils or adenoids cause most cases of sleep apnea in children.3
  • If surgery isn't possible or doesn't work, children are treated using CPAP or may use corticosteroid medicine through the nose.3 In some cases, getting braces that widen the mouth can help children who have sleep apnea.
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
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