Learn more about sleep apnea treatment

You’ve undergone an overnight sleep study and been told you have sleep apnea. Now it’s time to find a sleep apnea treatment that you feel comfortable with to help you – and your significant other – get a good night’s sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea. It happens when your airways are blocked, usually when the muscles in the tongue and throat relax while sleeping or because of large tonsils or adenoids. Sleep apnea can range from mild to severe.

It’s important to treat the disorder because it can increase your risk of:

Sleep Apnea Treatment Options

Sometimes lifestyle changes can be enough to treat mild sleep apnea. These adjustments include:

  • Losing weight
  • Sleeping on your side
  • Avoiding alcohol or sedatives before bed

If that doesn’t work, treatment options range from simple devices you wear in your mouth at night to machines or surgery.

Sleep Apnea Machines

Your doctor will most likely recommend a CPAP machine. CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, is a machine that helps you breathe while you sleep. A mask covers your nose with prongs that fit into your nostrils. It takes some time to get used to the machine, but CPAP is effective and one of the best nonsurgical ways to treat sleep apnea.

As an alternative to CPAP, the BPAP machine, or bilevel positive airway pressure, uses a lower air pressure when you breathe out than when you breathe in. Some people find this more comfortable.

Sleep Apnea Devices

For mild or moderate sleep apnea, you may be able to use over-the-counter nasal dilators — strips that keep your nostrils open while you sleep — or oral devices. The oral devices are mouthpieces fitted by a dentist that keep your airways open by positioning your tongue and jaw during sleep.

Sleep Apnea Surgery

Surgery for sleep apnea is usually not recommended as the first treatment option unless there is a blockage causing the apnea that can easily be removed. If you have enlarged tonsils or adenoids, your doctor may recommend that you have them removed. This is the most common cause of sleep apnea in children and is usually the best cure.

In adults, a procedure called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is the most common surgery. It is usually only recommended if there is an obvious blockage or when other treatment options have failed.

During the surgery, a doctor will remove any excess tissue in the throat, tonsils, adenoids, uvula, or roof of the mouth. You may still need to use CPAP after the surgery.

Inspire Therapy for Sleep Apnea

For people who can’t or won’t use CPAP, a new therapy may give you another option for moderate to severe sleep apnea. Inspire therapy is an implanted system that monitors your breathing. When your breathing is constricted or stops, the sensors will stimulate the airway muscles with a mild electric current. You have a remote to turn the system on at night and off when you wake up.

Your doctor will work with you to understand the cause and severity of your sleep apnea and help you find the best treatment that works within your lifestyle.

To learn more about your options for treating sleep apnea, visit the Division of Sleep Surgery at UPMC.