Sleep Apnea Home > Sleep Apnea Treatment

The goals of treatment for sleep apnea are to restore regular nighttime breathing and relieve the symptoms of sleep apnea. Types of treatment include lifestyle changes, continuous positive airway pressure, and, in some cases, surgery. In general, medications are not an effective form of treatment, but if nasal congestion is contributing to breathing problems, decongestants may be helpful.

An Overview of Sleep Apnea Treatment

Sleep apnea treatment is aimed at restoring regular nighttime breathing and relieving symptoms (such as very loud snoring and daytime sleepiness).
 
Sleep apnea treatment can include:
 
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
  • A mouthpiece
  • Surgery
  • Medications.
     

Lifestyle Changes for Treating Sleep Apnea

If you have mild sleep apnea, some changes in daily activities or habits may be all that are needed. These lifestyle changes may include:
 
  • Avoiding alcohol, smoking, and medications that make you sleepy. These things can make it harder for your throat to stay open while you sleep.
  • Losing weight if you are overweight. Even a little weight loss may improve your symptoms.
  • Sleeping on your side instead of your back. Sleeping in this position may help keep your throat open.
     

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

Continuous positive airway pressure, also known as CPAP, is the most common treatment for moderate or severe sleep apnea. For this treatment, you will wear a mask over your nose as you sleep. The mask blows air into your throat at a pressure level that is right for you. The increased airway pressure acts to keep the throat open while you sleep. The air pressure is adjusted so that it is just enough to stop these airways from briefly getting too small during sleep.
 
Sleep apnea will return if CPAP is stopped or if it is not used correctly. Usually, a technician comes to your home to bring the CPAP equipment. The technician will set up the CPAP machine and make adjustments based on your doctor's orders.
 
CPAP treatment may cause side effects in some people. Some side effects include:
 
  • Dry or stuffy nose
  • Irritation of the skin on the face
  • Bloating of the stomach
  • Sore eyes
  • Headaches.
     
If you are having trouble with CPAP side effects, work with your sleep medicine specialist and technician. Together you can do things to reduce these side effects, such as:
 
  • Using a nasal spray to relieve a dry, stuffy, or runny nose
  • Adjusting the CPAP settings
  • Adjusting the size/fit of the mask
  • Adding moisture to the air as it flows through the mask
  • Using a CPAP machine that can automatically adjust the amount of air pressure to the level that is required to keep the airway open
  • Using a CPAP machine that will start with a low air pressure and slowly increase the air pressure as you fall asleep.
     
People with severe sleep apnea symptoms generally feel much better once they begin treatment with CPAP. When using CPAP, it is very important that you follow up with your healthcare provider. If you are having side effects, talk to your healthcare provider.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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