Sleep apnea is treated with lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, breathing devices, and surgery. Medicines typically aren't used to treat the condition.
The goals of treating sleep apnea are to:
- Restore regular breathing during sleep
- Relieve symptoms such as loud snoring and daytime sleepiness
Addressing the Cause
In order to prevent the obstruction of the airway, which is the most common cause of sleep apnea, there is one treatment that is the best option. To keep the upper airway open, it is often necessary to support it with a constant flow of air delivered through a face mask worn while sleeping. This most common treatment is called continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. There is also a similar option called bilevel positive airway pressure, or BiPAP.
What to Expect with CPAP
Once it has been determined by a physician that this is the best treatment option, it is necessary to visit with a provider of durable medical equipment. The CPAP machine will be set with a prescribed pressure, and other equipment -- including a humidifier, hosing, and a personally fitted mask -- will be issued. It is important to find a mask that is comfortable, with minimal leakage when it is worn. Most individuals who use CPAP are able to tolerate it after a few weeks of regular use. Some people may need to address minor nuisance issues.
Are There Other Options?
Although CPAP therapy is clearly the best option in moderate to severe sleep apnea, some individuals cannot tolerate it. In this case, other treatment options might be pursued, including:
- Weight loss
- Surgery to remove excess tissue in the throat
- Positional sleep aids (such as "sleep shirts" or wedges)
- Dental devices to move the lower jaw forward
- Oxygen support (which is not usually sufficient alone)