Treating and Managing Sleep Apnea

How Sleep Apnea Is Treated

There are several ways to treat sleep apnea. No matter what treatment you choose, your healthcare provider may want you to do a follow-up sleep study to make sure your sleep apnea is well managed.

  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): CPAP is a machine that provides continuous pressure, gently blowing air into your airway, to keep it open while you sleep. You wear a mask that either fits into your nostrils, over your nose and/or over your mouth. Because CPAP works so well, it's often the first treatment your healthcare provider will have you try. It should be used whenever sleeping for the best treatment.
  • Auto-Adjusting Positive Airway Pressure (APAP): APAP is similar to the CPAP however it uses auto-adjusting positive airway pressure for airway opening instead of continuous pressure. The APAP varies the pressure according to the airflow limitation that occurs.
  • Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPap): BiPap is another machine that helps by providing positive air pressure. This treatment provides a higher pressure when you breathe in and a lower pressure when you breathe out. 

Oral appliances are dental devices that assist in preventing your airway from being blocked. These devices are most effective in treating mild to moderate sleep apnea and may include mandibular repositioning mouthpieces or tongue retaining devices. You need to have a follow-up sleep study while using the device to see if it is effective.

Your healthcare provider may recommend treatment called orofacial therapy which are exercises for your mouth and facial muscles. This can help improve the position of your tongue and strengthen the muscles that impact your sleep apnea including your lips, tongue, upper airway and face.

If other treatment options are not right for you, you may be given surgical options. Sleep apnea surgery includes several different possible procedures that may reduce the tissue in the back of your throat, pull your tongue forward, or insert a nerve stimulator to open your airway so you can breathe easier while sleeping. You may also be considered for surgery to remove tonsils or adenoids if they are blocking your airway.

Your healthcare provider often will recommend that you make some lifestyle changes along with other treatments.

  • Lose weight: Losing just 10% of your body weight can improve your sleep apnea. Sometimes losing weight may even cure sleep apnea.
  • Avoid alcohol and sedatives: Stopping drinking alcohol at least four hours before bed and avoiding sedative medications such as sleeping pills may help your sleep apnea.
  • Quit smoking: This may improve your sleep apnea because cigarette smoke can cause inflammation that narrows your airways.
  • Don't sleep on your back: Sleeping on your back may make your sleep apnea worse. Use a pillow to assist with sleeping on your side.

Treating Central Sleep Apnea

Many of the above treatment options may also be considered for central sleep apnea. Other treatments your healthcare provider may discuss with you include adjusting current medications that may affect your nighttime breathing, adding medication to stimulate breathing or surgical considerations such as a nerve stimulator.

Managing Sleep Apnea

If you have sleep apnea, you and your healthcare provider will want to work together to determine how best to manage your condition. Effective treatment should help you to feel more alert, rested, and have a decrease in other symptoms such as snoring and nighttime wakefulness.  Even if you don’t feel an improvement in your sleep, it’s important to continue your sleep apnea treatment for your overall health.

It is important to use your prescribed breathing device or oral appliance every time you sleep, but it may take you a while to adjust. If you are having a hard time getting used to your breathing device, or if you are still having symptoms after treatment, contact your healthcare provider. There are many types of masks, and it may take a couple of different tries to find the best fit for you.

If you use a breathing device to treat sleep apnea, you need to regularly clean the device and replace the supplies. Many of the breathing device machines store information about how well they are working. You can review this information with your healthcare provider during regularly scheduled visits. If you use an oral appliance, keep it clean and follow up with a sleep specialist and a dentist as it may cause your teeth to shift.

If you had surgery to treat sleep apnea, you may need a follow-up sleep study to make sure your sleep apnea has improved. You also may need to repeat a sleep study if you gain or lose weight. Over time, scar tissue or relaxation of your muscles can cause sleep apnea to return, so keep your healthcare provider informed about any sleep symptoms you experience.

Living with Sleep Apnea Important Tips

  • Sleep apnea, even if you are following the treatment recommendations of your healthcare provider, can increase your risk of complications when having surgery. Be sure to tell your provider that you have sleep apnea and how it is being treated so that extra steps can be taken if needed to ensure your airway stays open during surgery.
  • Untreated sleep apnea can result in decreased alertness and sleepiness during wakeful hours resulting in an increased risk when driving. Do not drive when you are feeling tired or less alert.
  • Follow the treatment plan that you and your healthcare provider established for the best possible outcomes. Go to all regularly scheduled appointments to make sure your plan continues to meet your needs.

Find Support

The Lung Association recommends patients and caregivers join our Living with Lung Disease Support Community to connect with others facing this disease. Support is also available through the Patient & Caregiver Network a free nationwide, online support program that provides direct access to lung disease management tools, education, and connection to other patients. You can also call the Lung Association's Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA to talk to a trained respiratory professional who can help answer your questions and connect you with support.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: June 7, 2024

Freedom From Smoking Clinic
Detroit, MI | May 29, 2024