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Can You Cure Sleep Apnea?

Published February 4th, 2022 by Erik Rivera
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Chris Riley

Sleep Apnea 101 | Causes | Symptoms | Risk Factors | Diagnosis | Treatment | Cure

Sleep apnea can be a very serious medical condition. It can cause a person to stop breathing during sleep, which can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

In some cases, sleep apnea can even be life-threatening.

There is no one definitive answer to the question of whether or not sleep apnea can be cured.

However, there are treatments available that can help lessen the symptoms of sleep apnea and improve the quality of life for those who suffer from it.

Continue reading to understand more about sleep apnea and how to lessen its symptoms.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing during your sleep. These breathing pauses are called apneas.

When you have sleep apnea, you may take gasping breaths to get air back into your lungs or you may not breathe at all for short periods of time while you sleep.

This happens when your throat muscles relax and block your airway. There are several reasons this can happen and we will delve into them below.

There are three main types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea (CSA), and mixed sleep apnea (MSA) which is also called complex sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea with millions of sufferers in the United States alone.

This is when your upper airways become blocked due to the muscles in your throat relaxing during sleep.

Central sleep apnea is when the brain doesn’t send signals to your muscles that control breathing so your airways don’t open as they should.

Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea  CSA.

The signs can be more severe in this type of sleep apnea as well.

can sleep apnea be cured

What are the causes of sleep apnea?

The causes of sleep apnea will depend on which of the types you suffer from. 

Obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea can be caused by excess tissue in the throat or an abnormally shaped jaw and head.

You can have a smaller airway due to these factors which can make it difficult for you to breathe at night.

Other causes for people with sleep apnea may be obesity, smoking, and drinking alcohol.

Central sleep apnea

Central sleep apnea can be caused by problems with the brainstem, such as a stroke or tumor.

Other health conditions that can cause sleep apnea include heart disease, irregular breathing patterns while awake, and the use of pain medications or opioids.

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

There are several common symptoms but the most common symptom of sleep apnea is snoring.

Snoring can be a sign that your upper airway is blocked, especially if you can’t breathe when you snore. Other sleep apnea symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue during the day even after a good night’s sleep. This is called extreme daytime sleepiness or EDS and is due to poor sleep quality. 
  • Difficulty staying asleep or waking up frequently during the night
  • Headaches in the morning
  • Dry mouth or a sore throat when you wake up
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Depression
  • Gasping or choking during your sleep
  • Irritability

If you suffer from these symptoms please talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about being diagnosed with sleep apnea.

What are the risk factors for sleep apnea?

There are several risk factors that can increase your chances of having sleep apnea. These include:

Being male

Men are more likely to have sleep apnea than women.

This is thought to be due to the fact that men typically are heavier than women and can carry excess weight.

Being overweight or obese

Excess weight can put increased pressure on your airways and make it difficult to breathe at night.

Having a large neck

If you have a larger neck size you are at an increased risk for sleep apnea because you can have more excess soft tissue in your throat.

Being over the age of 40

As you get older, your muscles can begin to relax more making it difficult for you to breathe at night.

Having a family history of sleep apnea

If sleep apnea runs in the family you are at an increased risk because obstructive sleep apnea can be hereditary.

Smoking

Smoking can damage your lungs and make it difficult to breathe which will increase your chances of sleep apnea.

Drinking alcohol and sedative medicines

Excessive alcohol can relax the muscles in your throat which can make it more difficult to breathe. Certain sedative medicines can also produce the same results in your upper airway.

Nasal congestion

If you can’t breathe through your nose it can make it difficult for you to breathe at night which can induce sleep apnea.

How do doctors diagnose sleep apnea?

If you believe that you have sleep apnea please talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.

They can help you get a diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea.

Your doctor can listen to your symptoms to help determine if you have sleep apnea.

Your doctor can also do a physical exam and check your health history for more information about your risk factors.

There are also some tests that can be done to help diagnose sleep apnea.

These tests can include:

Polysomnography

A polysomnography is the most common test used to diagnose sleep apnea.

This study will have you stay overnight in a sleep lab so that your breathing can be monitored by a sleep specialist and it will measure how many times you stop breathing at night and can also determine if your brain has alerted your body that it needs to breathe.

A home sleep apnea test

A home test is a newer test that can be used to diagnose sleep apnea.

This test can be done in the comfort of your own home and will monitor how many times you stop breathing at night.

How do doctors treat sleep apnea?

There are several different treatments that can be used for sleep apnea.

The most common treatment option is using a CPAP machine at night.

CPAP stands for constant positive airway pressure and this machine will help to keep your airways open and improve your breathing at night by constantly providing air to your mouth and nose as you sleep.

There are also other effective treatment options that can be used if you can’t use a CPAP machine.

These treatments for sleep apnea can include:

Other positive airway pressure machines

CPAP machines are not the only airway pressure machines that are used for treatment.

Other ones include bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machines or automatic positive airway pressure (APAP) machines for sleep apnea treatment.

These can provide more options for people who can’t use the standard CPAP machine. The BiPAP machine will provide two different air pressures, one for breathing in and one for breathing out.

On the other hand, an APAP machine will automatically adjust the pressure to how difficult it is for you to breathe.

Oral devices

These oral appliances can be used to help keep your tongue and soft palate from falling back in your throat at night causing you to stop breathing and are similar to a retainer.

There are a few different types of oral devices that can be used and your doctor can help you find the best one for you.

Adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV)

This is a newer type of treatment that can be used for people who have severe sleep apnea.

This machine will help to keep your airway open by providing positive pressure when you exhale and negative pressure when you inhale.

Surgery

If your sleep apnea is caused by excess tissue in your throat, surgery can be done to remove this tissue.

The most common surgery for sleep apnea is called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, or UPPP for short, although there are several others.

Can sleep apnea be cured?

Unfortunately, there are no sleep apnea cures, but it can be treated.

It can also be prevented if you are at risk for developing sleep apnea by making lifestyle changes such as losing weight and avoiding alcohol before bed.

Your treatment plan may help you reduce most symptoms but there is no way to completely cure it.

Are there ways to prevent sleep apnea?

There are some things that you can do to help decrease your risk of sleep apnea. These preventative measures include the following:

Maintaining a healthy weight

Obstructive sleep apnea can be caused by being overweight or obese.

You can decrease the amount of fatty tissue around your neck and improve your breathing at night with weight loss.

Maintaining a healthy body weight with diet and exercise will go a long way to preventing sleep apnea.

Avoiding alcohol before bed

Drinking alcohol can relax the muscles in your throat and increase your risk for sleep apnea.

Avoid drinking any alcohol before bed to help decrease your chances of developing this condition.

Quitting smoking

Smoking can also help to prevent sleep apnea because tobacco can irritate the airways and cause them to swell.

If you can’t quit smoking, try not to smoke before bedtime or when you know you might fall asleep at another point during the day.

Using a nasal spray

If you have allergies or another condition that causes your nose to be congested, using a nasal spray can help clear your passages and improve breathing at night.

Although central sleep apnea can not be prevented, there are ways to decrease your risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea.

By following these simple tips, you can help keep your airways open and improve your quality of sleep.

Summary

Sleep apnea can be a very serious condition that can cause many health problems. If you believe that you may be at risk for developing sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about preventative measures and ways to decrease this risk.

For those who suffer from sleep apnea, your doctor can help find the right treatment plan for you and make sure that your health isn’t at risk by having this condition.

Although sleep apnea can’t be cured, it can be treated and one form may be prevented. If you have any further questions, please talk to your doctor or sleep specialist.

References and Sources:

American Sleep Association

Sleep Foundation 

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