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Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treatment

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This information was reviewed and approved by Sheila Tsai, MD (3/1/2017).

There are several options for managing sleep apnea. They include:

Maintaining An Ideal Weight

People who are overweight are more likely to develop sleep apnea. Therefore, maintaining an ideal weight is important in managing sleep apnea. Before starting a diet or exercise program, talk with your doctor about your plan, to make sure it is safe.


Sleeping Position

Some people breathe better and snore less loudly when sleeping on their sides or stomach. There are simple techniques to keep you from sleeping on your back, including sewing a tennis ball to the back of your pajama top, wearing a soft backpack at night, or placing a pillow under your shoulder.


Sleeping Habits

Adopting good sleeping habits may improve the quality of your sleep, whether or not you have sleep apnea. Learn more.


Dental Devices

Dental devices, which may be otherwise referred to as oral appliances or mandibular advancement devices, are designed to push the jaw forward. Worn at night, they may widen the throat and increase the size of the airway. Dental devices may be more effective for mild or moderate apnea. Learn more.



Surgery may potentially improve sleep apnea in very specific circumstances. Learn more.


CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure)

CPAP is generally recommended to treat sleep apnea. This common and effective treatment provides pressure to the person's airway through a machine that blows air. The airflow from the CPAP machine is delivered through a mask that fits on the face and covers the nose, or the nose and mouth. This air acts as a splint to keep the airway open during sleep, allowing breathing to become more regular. Snoring stops, and restful sleep is restored. Learn more.


Alternative Therapies for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) Other than CPAP

Obstructive sleep apnea requires treatment. If untreated OSA can result in serious health problems. The most common treatment used is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). CPAP can improve a majority of the symptoms of OSA.

In some cases people with OSA are unable to use CPAP or prefer to try other treatments; these therapies tend to be used in people with mild to moderate OSA. These other therapies include: oral appliances, positional therapy, upper airway surgery, nasal expiratory resistance and oral negative pressure devices. People who are overerweight are advised to lose weight, and exercise programs are advised for all peoples with OSA.


Oral Appliances to Treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Oral appliances are used the entire time you are sleeping. They look very similar to the mouth guards used in sporting activities. These devices work best in people who have mild to moderate OSA without severe obesity. Oral appliances work by advancing the lower jaw forward, allowing your airway to stay open while you sleep.

To learn more on oral appliances for sleep apnea and obtain answers to common questions, view the Patient Information Series from the American Thoracic Society.

Surgical options may be available to help manage or treat sleep apnea. Nasal surgeries may help improve tolerance to PAP therapy and improve congestion. In general, nasal surgery alone is insufficient to treat significant sleep apnea. Other upper airway surgeries may involve removing tonsils, removing some of the uvula and/or soft palate or tongue reduction surgery. Recently, an implantable device has been approved for treatment of sleep apnea in those adults intolerant to PAP therapy. For children who have large tonsils and adenoids, surgical removal of these tissues may effectively treat their sleep apnea.


Products to Avoid

Alcohol, smoking and certain medicines that make you sleepy can all make OSA worse. Sedatives may also make the pauses in breathing longer. Smoke irritates the tissue in your nose and throat, which can make the airway more likely to collapse during sleep.


Over-the-counter Products

There is little scientific evidence that various nasal sprays and nasal strips that are sold to limit snoring have any significant effect on obstructive sleep apnea when used by themselves. Talk to your doctor if you plan to use these products.


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