Making sense of obstructive sleep apnea treatments

Obstructive sleep apnea can range from mild to severe. Depending on your symptoms, there are several treatment options that can help you manage the condition.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep condition that interrupts your breathing during sleep. Treatment options range from simple lifestyle changes to surgery. Your treatment type will depend on the severity of your condition.

If your obstructive sleep apnea is mild, your treatment plan may start with lifestyle changes such as:

  • Lose weight if you are overweight
  • Avoid sleeping on your back
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid drinking alcohol several hours before bedtime
  • Use a nasal decongestant or an allergy medicine
  • Regular exercise

Your doctor may suggest the following treatments if your obstructive sleep apnea is more moderate or if you don't respond to lifestyle changes:

  • Use positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy. This treatment uses a machine to deliver air pressure through a mask that fits over your nose and mouth or into your nose. It keeps your upper airway passages open while you sleep. The most common type of PAP therapy is continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP.
  • Wear a mouthpiece. This involves wearing a custom fitted device in your mouth during sleep that keeps your throat open by holding your lower jaw forward. You'll need to see a dentist who specializes in dental sleep medicine devices.

If your obstructive sleep apnea doesn't improve with a PAP therapy device or a mouthpiece, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery might also be an option if you have a visible upper airway blockage, such as large tonsils or adenoids. Surgery treatments include:

  • Surgery to remove tissue from your throat and mouth. Your adenoids and tonsils might also be removed at this time.
  • Airway stimulation surgery to implant a device that monitors your breathing while you sleep. Based on your breathing pattern, the device sends mild signals to your upper airway muscles. This helps keep the airway open during sleep by preventing the tongue from blocking your throat.
  • Jaw surgery (maxillomandibular advancement) to enlarge the top of your throat. This procedure helps prevent blockages during sleep.
  • Neck surgery (tracheostomy) to create a small opening in the neck for a tube that helps you breathe. Tracheostomy is only used in life-threatening cases.

It's important to talk to your doctor about obstructive sleep apnea treatment options. Each treatment plan will vary depending on your weight, other health conditions you may have and your health history.

Aug. 14, 2020 See more In-depth

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