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Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

Published February 3rd, 2022 by Erik Rivera
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Chris Riley

Sleep Apnea 101 | Symptoms | Treatment Options | Prevention

If you have been experiencing sleep problems, there is a chance that you might be suffering from sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects millions of people each year.

It can cause a number of health problems, and can also lead to decreased productivity and even accidents due to a lack of quality sleep.

In this article, we will discuss the different treatment options for sleep apnea and how you can get the help you need.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that occurs when you stop breathing during sleep.

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

All three types occur when you don't get enough oxygen to your brain or lungs, but they happen for different reasons.

Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the muscles in the back of your throat relax, causing an airway obstruction while you sleep.

Central sleep apnea occurs when there's a communication problem between your brain and breathing muscles that makes you stop breathing.

Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of both of the other types of sleep apnea.

treatment options for sleep apnea

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

If you suffer from sleep apnea there are several symptoms that may occur. Symptoms of sleep apnea include the following:

Snoring

Snoring is the most common symptom of sleep apnea.

If you or your bed partner have noticed that you snore loudly, especially when you sleep on your back, then you may have sleep apnea.

Gasping and choking

Experiencing episodes where you make a gasping or choking sound while asleep may be attributed to sleep apnea.

This is caused by the airway becoming blocked and then opening again, which causes a sudden burst of air.

Gasping or choking sounds can happen numerous times throughout the night whether you wake up or not.

Daytime sleepiness

If you're excessively sleepy during the day even after getting a good night's sleep, you may have sleep apnea.

This is also called excessive daytime sleepiness or EDS.

Irritability

If you live with sleep apnea you may experience irritability because you're not getting the quality sleep you need or it may be due to the constant snoring and gasping.

Poor concentration

If you have trouble concentrating at work or school, it may be due to sleep apnea.

This is because sleep apnea can lead to memory problems and decreased focus.

Restless sleep

Experiencing sleep apnea often results in restless sleep and you may wake up frequently during the night.

Insomnia

Insomnia is the inability to sleep for an extended period of time.

You may suffer from insomnia due to snoring and gasping episodes, sleep restlessness, or sleep deprivation.

Morning headaches

If you experience headaches in the morning, it may be attributed to sleep apnea.

Headaches are the result of sleep deprivation which can cause muscles and blood vessels to contract.

Depression

Sleep apnea can lead to depression due to sleep deprivation and sleep disruption. This is because sleep is an important part of your mental health.

What are the treatment options for sleep apnea?

The most common treatments of sleep apnea include lifestyle changes, sleep devices, and surgeries.

Let's take a look at the different treatment options in detail below.

Lifestyle changes

If you have a mild case of sleep apnea, lifestyle changes may be enough to treat your sleep apnea.

If you are overweight, one cause of obstructive sleep apnea, lifestyle changes may be all you need to help mitigate your symptoms. Lifestyle changes include weight loss through exercise and a healthy diet.

Positional therapy

If you sleep on your back, positional therapy may help to reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea.

These treatments for sleep apnea involve using a device or pillow to keep you from sleeping on your back so you sleep on your side.

Oral appliances

An oral appliance or oral device is used to treat sleep apnea by opening and keeping your airways open while you sleep.

Oral appliance therapy works much like a retainer, moving the lower jaw slightly forward to keep your airway open.

They are also called maxillomandibular advancement devices or MADs because they bring the mandible part of your jaw forward.

CPAP machines

CPAP is an acronym for continuous positive airway pressure devices and it's one of the most common treatments for sleep apnea.

CPAP machines use a mask that is placed over your mouth and nose to provide air pressure while you sleep, which keeps your airways open and helps prevent sleep apnea episodes from occurring.

BiPAP machines

BiPAP is similar to CPAP in that it uses air pressure to keep your airways open while you sleep.

However, BiPAP machines use two different levels of air pressure, one for inhalation and one for exhalation.

This allows your lungs to fully inflate and helps prevent sleep apnea episodes from occurring.

APAP machines

APAP is an acronym for automatic positive airway pressure and it's similar to BiPAP in that it uses two different levels of air pressure, one for inhalation and one for exhalation.

However, APAP machines are able to adjust the level of air pressure based on your needs throughout the night.

These are also called adaptive servo-ventilation machines (ASV).

Nasal decongestants

If you have sleep apnea and are congested, using a nasal decongestant may help clear your passages and improve airflow.

If mucus from allergies or sickness causes a nasal obstruction, this can lead to sleep apnea.

Upper airway stimulation

Upper airway stimulation is a relatively new sleep apnea treatment that uses electrical impulses to stimulate the muscles in your throat and keep them open while you sleep.

These devices, like the Inspire device, have a device implanted in your chest with another device implanted in your upper airway.

They have a remote that you turn on the device before you sleep and it provides mild stimulation from an electric pulse to your upper airway during sleep to keep it open.

Surgeries

There are a few different surgeries that can be performed to help treat sleep apnea.

The most common sleep apnea surgery is called UPPP, which is short for uvulopalatopharyngoplasty.

This surgery removes excess soft tissue from the back of your throat, including the uvula and tonsils, in order to open up your airway.

Nasal surgery in the nasal passage and jaw surgery are also options to help improve your quality of life.

Cut down on alcohol and cigarettes

If you want to prevent sleep apnea from occurring, one of the best things you can do is cut down on your alcohol and cigarette consumption.

Excessive alcohol intake and smoking are both major risk factors for sleep apnea.

Is there any way to prevent sleep apnea?

There are a few ways to prevent sleep apnea.

These sleep apnea prevention tips include getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy body weight, avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, sleeping on your side instead of your back.

If you are obese, maintaining a healthy weight by exercise and diet is crucial to helping prevent sleep apnea as you age.

Summary

There are several different sleep apnea treatment options available depending on the severity of sleep apnea symptoms you experience.

Lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and quitting smoking and drinking, may be enough to treat it if you have mild sleep apnea.

However, if these options do not work for you then you can try different positive airway pressure machines or oral appliances.

Lastly, if you suffer from severe sleep apnea and none of the above options seem to work, then there are several different surgical procedures available to you with the most common being tissue removal in the back of your throat.

If you have any further questions please talk to your doctor, sleep specialist, or healthcare provider to find out the most effective treatment plan for you.

References and Sources:

American Sleep Apnea Association 

Mayo Clinic 

Harvard Health Publishing 

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