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How to Treat Mild Sleep Apnea

Published February 22nd, 2022 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Erik Rivera

Sleep Apnea 101 | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Mild vs. Severe | Treatments

If you snore loudly or have been told by someone else that you stop breathing at night, you may have sleep apnea.

It is a sleep disorder that affects millions of Americans of any age, both men and women.

Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing stops and starts repeatedly during sleep.

If you have mild sleep apnea it means that the episodes of when you stop breathing are not as severe as moderate or severe sleep apnea.

There are many treatment options for mild sleep apnea, including lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, and positional sleep therapies among others.

Continue reading to find out the best treatment options for mild sleep apnea below.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition in which your breathing stops or becomes shallow while you sleep.

This is usually caused by the muscles in the back of your throat relaxing too much during sleep, which can allow your soft tissue to block your airway.

When your upper airway is blocked, you stop breathing for a period of time and these events are known as apneas.

There are a few different types of sleep apnea that you can suffer from and it is important to know which one affects you so you and your doctor can determine the best treatment options.

The most common type is called obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA. It happens when your throat muscles relax and block your airway during sleep.

You may have breathing pauses lasting from a few seconds to over a minute, which can occur 30 times or more per hour.

The second type of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea (CSA). This happens when the brain does not send signals to your body to breathe during sleep.

The third and final type is complex or mixed sleep apnea syndrome (MSA), which occurs when you have both central and obstructive sleep apnea.

mild sleep apnea

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

If your bed partner or somebody you live with doesn't tell you about your symptoms, it can be hard to determine if you suffer from sleep apnea or not because you are asleep.

Loud snoring is the most common sign of sleep apnea and this happens due to the relaxed throat muscles that block your airway.

You can also experience moments where you stop breathing during sleep, which causes a momentary drop in oxygen levels in your body.

This can happen multiple times during a night's sleep. People who have sleep apnea will often wake up gasping or choking from these apnea events.

Other symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), also called hypersomnia
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating during the day
  • Mood swings, irritability, or depression
  • Dry mouth
  • Sore throat
  • Trouble staying asleep, also called insomnia

If you have these sleep apnea symptoms, you should talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.

How do doctors diagnose sleep apnea?

Although you should always talk to your doctor if you are experiencing these sleep apnea symptoms, they may refer you to a specialist such as a pulmonologist, which is a lung disease specialist, an otolaryngologist, also called an ear, nose, and throat doctor, or a physician who specializes in sleep medicine called a sleep specialist.

After reviewing your medical history and assessing the symptoms you are experiencing, your doctor may order a sleep study.

A sleep study, also called polysomnography, is an overnight sleep test conducted in a sleep center that will track and record your breathing patterns, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and movements during sleep.

This information will then help the doctor to diagnose whether or not you have sleep apnea.

At-home sleep tests are also available which allows a portable machine to monitor various biometrics while you sleep.

This data will then be uploaded to a board-certified sleep specialist for analysis and interpretation. Although this is more convenient, a sleep study conducted in a sleep lab is more accurate.

What is the difference between mild versus moderate or severe sleep apnea?

The difference between mild, moderate, and severe sleep apnea is the number of apnea events that you have each hour.

Mild sleep apnea is defined as having 5 to 15 respiratory sleep disruptions per hour, moderate sleep apnea is 15 to 30 events per hour, and severe sleep apnea is more than 30 events per hour.

What are the treatment options for mild sleep apnea?

CPAP or continuous positive airway pressure devices that provide a constant stream of air through a mask to your mouth and nose are the most common Treatment Options For Sleep Apnea.

However, these are not always needed with mild sleep apnea. The most common treatment options for mild sleep apnea include the following:

Sleep positional therapy

This means sleeping on your side instead of on your back. When you sleep on your back, the weight of your head and neck can relax the throat muscles and block your airway.

Oral appliances

Oral appliances, also called oral devices or dental devices, are made by a dentist and fit in your mouth like a retainer and help keep your throat muscles or tongue from relaxing too much while you sleep.

The most common oral devices include mandibular advancement devices (MADs) that move your jaw and tongue forward to keep the airway open and tongue retaining devices (TRDs), which are small, horseshoe-shaped devices that fit over your tongue and hold it in place to keep the airway open.

Weight loss

Losing weight can reduce the amount of fat around your neck, which is another reason why people develop sleep apnea. If you have mild sleep apnea, losing weight may help to lessen the number of apnea events you have each hour.

Lifestyle changes

Other lifestyle changes that may help to reduce the number of apnea events you have are quitting smoking and avoiding alcohol before bedtime.

If you are taking sedatives before bed, you may look for alternatives as these relax your tongue and throat muscles too.

Other positive airway pressure treatments for sleep apnea such as BiPAP, also called bilevel positive airway therapy, or APAP, meaning automatic positive airway pressure, can be used although they are not always needed with mild sleep apnea. Surgery is usually the last resort treatment option for sleep apnea and is rare for mild cases.

Is there any way to prevent sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea can sometimes be prevented while central sleep apnea can not. There are several things you can do to help prevent sleep apnea as people with sleep apnea often have various risk factors.

It is important to maintain an optimal weight by eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise because obesity is a major risk factor for developing sleep apnea.

Avoiding alcohol before bedtime can also help to prevent sleep apnea because it relaxes the throat muscles too much causing them to block your airway while you are asleep.

Quitting smoking can also help to prevent sleep apnea. If you are taking sedatives before bed, look for alternatives as these relax your tongue and throat muscles too much.

Lastly, sleeping on your side instead of your back is best when trying to keep an open upper airway while you sleep.

Summary

Mild sleep apnea is defined as having between 5 and 15 apnea events per hour.

Treatment options for mild sleep apnea include CPAP therapy, changing sleep positions, oral appliances, weight loss, lifestyle changes, and other positive airway pressure therapies such as BiPAP or APAP.

Surgery is an option for sleep apnea but is rare in mild cases.

There are several things you can do to help prevent sleep apnea, including maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol before bedtime, quitting smoking, and sleeping on your side instead of your back.

Mild sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that can be treated easily if the right treatment options are used. If you think you may have sleep apnea or have more questions, please talk to your doctor or sleep specialist.

References and Sources:

Harvard Health Publishing

NIH

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