Sleep Apnea Treatment
If a sleep study shows that you have sleep apnea, your healthcare provider may talk to you about making lifelong heart-healthy lifestyle changes. You may also need breathing or oral devices or surgery to help keep your airways open while you sleep.
Healthy lifestyle changes
To help treat your sleep apnea, you may need to adopt lifelong healthy lifestyle changes. These include getting regular physical activity, maintaining healthy sleeping habits and a healthy weight, limiting alcohol, and quitting smoking. Your provider also may ask you to sleep on your side and not on your back. This helps keep your airway open while you sleep.
A breathing device, such as a CPAP machine, is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. A CPAP machine provides constant air pressure in your throat to keep the airway open when you breathe in.
Breathing devices work best when you also make healthy lifestyle changes. Side effects of CPAP treatment may include:
- Dry eyes
- Dry mouth
- Runny nose
If you experience stomach discomfort or bloating, you should stop using your CPAP machine and contact your healthcare provider.
Depending on the type of sleep apnea you have, you may need another type of breathing device such as an auto-adjusting positive airway pressure (APAP) machine or a bilevel positive airway pressure (BPAP) machine. Living With Sleep Apnea has information about how to take care of your breathing device.
Oral devices, also called oral appliances, are custom-fit devices that you typically wear in your mouth while you sleep. There are two types of oral devices that work differently to open the upper airway while you sleep. Some hybrid devices have features of both types.
- Mandibular repositioning mouthpieces are devices that cover the upper and lower teeth and hold the jaw in a position that prevents it from blocking the upper airway.
- Tongue retaining devices are mouthpieces that hold the tongue in a forward position to prevent it from blocking the upper airway.
A new type of oral device was recently approved by the FDA for use while awake. The device delivers electrical muscle stimulation through a removable mouthpiece that sits around the tongue. You wear the mouthpiece once a day for 20 minutes at a time, for 6 weeks. The device stimulates the tongue muscle while awake to help prevent the tongue from collapsing backward and blocking the airway during sleep.
If you have sleep apnea, your provider may prescribe an oral device if you do not want to use CPAP or cannot tolerate CPAP. They will recommend that you visit a dentist who will custom make an appliance for you, make sure that it is comfortable, and teach you how to use it to get the best results.
Therapy for your mouth and facial muscles
Exercises for your mouth and facial muscles, also called orofacial therapy, may help treat sleep apnea in children and adults. This therapy helps improve the position of your tongue and strengthens the muscles that control your lips, tongue, upper airway, and face.
You may need surgery if other treatments do not work for you. Possible surgical procedures include:
- Adenotonsillectomy to remove your tonsils and adenoids
- Surgery to place an implant that monitors your breathing patterns and helps control certain muscles that open your airways during sleep
- Surgery to remove some soft tissue from your mouth and throat, which helps make your upper airway bigger
- Maxillary or jaw advancement surgery to move your upper jaw (maxilla) and lower jaw (mandible) forward, which helps make your upper airway bigger