If your sleep apnea is moderate to severe, or you’ve tried self-help strategies and lifestyle changes without success, a sleep doctor may help you find an effective treatment. Treatment for sleep apnea has come a long way in recent times, so even if you were unhappy with sleep apnea treatment in the past, you may now find something that works for you.
Treatments for central and complex sleep apnea usually include treating any underlying medical condition causing the apnea, such as a heart or
neuromuscular disorder, and using supplemental oxygen and breathing devices while you sleep.
Treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea include:
- Other breathing devices
- Dental devices
*Medications are only available to treat the sleepiness associated with sleep apnea, not the sleep apnea itself.
Option 1: CPAP
Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP) is the most common treatment for moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea. The CPAP device is a mask-like machine that covers your nose and mouth, providing a constant stream of air that keeps your breathing passages open while you sleep.
If you’ve given up on sleep apnea machines in the past because of discomfort, you owe it to yourself to give them a second look. CPAP technology is constantly being updated and improved, and the new CPAP devices are lighter, quieter, and more comfortable. In many cases, you’ll experience immediate symptom relief and a huge boost in your mental and physical energy.
CPAP tips and troubleshooting
It can take some time to get accustomed to sleeping while wearing a CPAP device. It’s natural to miss sleeping the “old way,” but there are things you can to do make the adjustment easier.
Make sure your CPAP device fits correctly. A correct fit makes a huge difference. Schedule regular appointments with your doctor to check the fit and evaluate your treatment progress.
Ease into it. Start by using your CPAP device for short periods. Use the “ramp” setting to gradually increase air pressure.
Customize the mask, tubing and straps for the right fit. Ask your doctor about soft pads to reduce skin irritation, nasal pillows for nose discomfort, and chinstraps to keep your mouth closed and reduce throat irritation.
Many CPAP devices now come with a built-in humidifier to decrease dryness and skin irritation. Try a special face moisturizer for dry skin.
Try a saline nasal spray or a nasal decongestant for nasal congestion.
Keep your mask, tubing and headgear clean. To ensure maximum comfort and benefit, replace CPAP and humidifier filters regularly and keep the unit clean.
Mask the sound of the CPAP machine. If the sound of the CPAP machine bothers you, place it beneath the bed to reduce the noise and use a sound machine to help you sleep.
Option 2: Other breathing devices
In addition to CPAP, there are other devices that a sleep specialist may recommend for sleep apnea treatment:
Expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP) single-use devices fit over the nostrils to help keep the airway open and are smaller, less intrusive than CPAP machines and may benefit people with mild-to-moderate obstructive sleep apnea.
Bilevel positive airway pressure (BPAP) devices can be used for those who are unable to adapt to using CPAP, or for central sleep apnea sufferers who need assistance for a weak breathing pattern. This device automatically adjusts the pressure while you’re sleeping, providing more pressure when you inhale, less when you exhale. Some BPAP devices also automatically deliver a breath if it detects you haven’t taken one for a certain number of seconds.
Adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV) devices can be used for treating central sleep apnea as well as obstructive sleep apnea. The ASV device stores information about your normal breathing pattern and automatically uses airflow pressure to prevent pauses in your breathing while you’re asleep.
Option 3: Dental devices
Most dental devices are acrylic and fit inside your mouth, much like an athletic mouth guard. Others fit around your head and chin to adjust the position of your lower jaw. Two common oral devices are the mandibular repositioning device and the tongue retaining device. These devices open your airway by bringing your lower jaw or your tongue forward during sleep.
Dental devices are only effective for mild to moderate sleep apnea. There are also a number of troubling side effects from using this type of treatment, including soreness, saliva build-up, nausea, and damage or permanent change in position of the jaw, teeth, and mouth.
It’s very important to get fitted by a dentist specializing in sleep apnea, and to see the dentist on a regular basis to monitor any problems and periodically adjust the mouthpiece.
Option 4: Sleep apnea implants
One of the newest treatments for sleep apnea involves the insertion of a pacemaker system that stimulates muscles to keep airways open so you can breathe during sleep. The new treatment has been approved by the FDA in the U.S. for people with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea.
Although the technology is relatively new (and expensive), studies suggest it may also benefit people with central sleep apnea.
Option 5: Surgery
If you have exhausted other sleep apnea treatment options, surgery can increase the size of your airway, thus reducing episodes of sleep apnea.
The surgeon may remove tonsils, adenoids, or excess tissue at the back of the throat or inside the nose, reconstruct the jaw to enlarge the upper airway, or implant plastic rods into the soft palate. Surgery carries risks of complications and infections, and in some rare cases, symptoms can become worse after surgery.