How is Sleep Apnea Treated?

Doctor Q&A

Your sleep used to be a time of peace and rejuvenation. But somewhere along the way, your snoring, choking and gasping have led to this – a diagnosis of sleep apnea. So now what?

Even though you’re not alone among the nearly 22 million Americans who share your diagnosis, the treatment options can be daunting.

Not to worry! Armed with some knowledge and direction on where to go for help, a good night’s sleep can be more than just a dream.

Who Can Help Me?

Sleep apnea is best treated by a knowledgeable sleep medicine specialist.

Our goal is to keep your airways open during sleep and maintain a normal oxygen level in order to prevent the numerous complications of sleep apnea.

We will collaborate with you to select an effective, acceptable and practical option, tailored to your specific needs.

Thanks to advancements in the field, we are more able than ever before to find an effective treatment for you.

What are My Options?

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Device (CPAP)  

Known as the cornerstone of treatment for sleep apnea, CPAP is the most effective and common treatment. 

A CPAP device keeps the upper airway open during sleep by administering air pressure through an air-tight mask or nasal attachment. The gentle air pressure simply splits open your airways.

Based on the results of a diagnostic sleep study, your sleep medicine specialist can determine the pressure setting right for you.

The CPAP device provides personalized information that can track the success of your treatment and help overcome problems.

While using CPAP may seem uncomfortable, noisy or bulky at first, the vast majority of patients accept the treatment, especially after experiencing better sleep.

One challenge of this treatment, however, is that mask discomfort and nasal congestion prevent some patients from using the treatment with regularity. That’s why follow-up visits with your sleep medicine specialist are critical to your success.

During these visits, sleep medicine clinics provide professional help in the fit of your mask, as well as providing an individualized plan to help make your treatment as comfortable as possible.

Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure Device (BiPAP)

Similar in function and design to CPAP, BiPAP is also effective in keeping your airways open. But unlike the constant singular stream of pressurized air provided by a CPAP device, BiPAP offers two pressure settings; the prescribed pressure for inhalation (IPAP), and a lower pressure for exhalation (EPAP).

The dual settings allow you to get more air in and out of your lungs.

BiPAP technology is helpful for patients who may have difficulty exhaling against the continuous stream of air coming through a CPAP device. Other patients who could potentially benefit from BiPAP therapy include:

  • Patients with low oxygen levels
  • Patients with cardiopulmonary disorders, such as congestive heart failure
  • Patients with lung disorders or certain neuromuscular disorders.

Dental Devices

Dental devices are best used in mild cases of sleep apnea, or when relief of snoring is the main goal.

A dental device called a mandibular advancement device can reposition the jaw to bring the tongue and soft palate forward, which may relieve airway obstruction.

This custom-made, costly piece of durable medical equipment must be provided by a specialized dentist. 

The device offers an alternative treatment if/when you can’t tolerate CPAP.

Note** Although it’s true that over-the-counter oral devices may help with snoring, they will not help your sleep apnea.

Surgical Treatment

Surgical options are very rarely used, due to their invasive nature, increased risks associated with them and variable success rates.

But when non-surgical treatments fail, or sometimes in conjunction with a non-surgical treatment, these procedures present an alternative:

  • Repositioning bone or soft tissue
  • Removal of the uvula and excessive tissue in the throat, including the tonsils, if present
  • Nerve stimulation to protrude the tongue
  • Tracheostomy to create a permanent opening in the neck (a drastic procedure reserved only for patients with severe disease) 
  • Removal of the adenoids and tonsils as the standard treatment for children with obstructive sleep apnea.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Control your weight – Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and BMI can improve, and occasionally fully resolve, obstructive sleep apnea. Statistics show that weight loss as a result of bariatric surgery is very successful in resolving mild cases of sleep apnea. 

Note** It can be difficult to maintain weight loss; the five-year success of non-surgical weight loss is only five percent, meaning that 95 percent of people regain lost weight. For information on effectively losing weight and keeping it off, visit our blog post, Long-term Health Starts with Balanced Nutrition.

  • Adjust your sleep position – Sleep apnea tends to be worse while sleeping on your back. Specialized pillows could potentially help a rare case of positional sleep apnea. Using pillows as props should not be your only treatment without proper evaluation by a sleep medicine specialist.
  • Limit your use of alcohol, anti-anxiety medications and other sedatives. These substances can cause complications, even when consumed during the day.

What is My First Step?

For information on being evaluated for sleep apnea, call 913-632-9770, or visit AdventHealth Medical Group Pulmonolgy.

Need a primary care doctor? Take a quick survey to be matched with the right primary care doctor for you.

For more information on sleep apnea, visit the American Sleep Apnea Association.