So you, or someone you love, has received a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea. Now what? Learning that you have OSA can bring up complicated feelings—relief at knowing what your sleep issue is, hope at the prospect of sleeping better at night and feeling better during the day, and concern about the health conditions that are associated with sleep apnea, including high blood pressure and obesity.
You may also feel uncertain about your treatment options. There are several different treatments available that can be used safety and effectively to treat sleep apnea. Let’s take a quick look at the most common ones:
CPAP. Continuous positive airway pressure therapy is most often known by its acronym. With CPAP, a gentle, consistent flow of air is continuously circulated through the airway during sleep, in order to keep the airway from narrowing or collapsing. CPAP is prescribed by a physician. The pressurized airflow comes from a small machine, which is attached by a tube to a face mask that’s worn during sleep. In addition to CPAP therapy, there are other forms of airway pressure therapy used to treat sleep apnea.
Oral appliances. Oral appliance therapy is increasingly common as treatment for OSA, especially for people with less severe sleep apnea. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends oral appliance therapy as a first line treatment for mild to moderate OSA. These appliances are small, custom made devices worn in the mouth during sleep. Most oral appliances work by moving the lower jaw slightly forward and holding it in place throughout a night’s sleep. As a result of the jaw’s repositioning, the tongue also moves forward. These changes help keep the airway unobstructed during sleep. Other oral appliances work by repositioning the tongue itself.
Positional therapy. For some people, OSA is worse when sleeping in certain positions, usually on the back. Switching to a side-sleeping position can help to reduce sleep apnea. Positional therapy involves keeping a sleeper in a side-sleeping position in order to reduce or eliminate sleep apnea symptoms. Positional therapy also can involve elevating the head to avoid airway collapse. Positional therapy is frequently used with other treatments for OSA, such as oral appliances.
Lifestyle and behavioral changes. There are a number of lifestyle factors that can influence the risk of OSA. Estimates suggest 70 percent of people with OSA are also overweight. Losing weight can help alleviates symptoms of sleep apnea. Alcohol enhances the relaxation of airway muscles, and can exacerbate OSA. Abstaining from drinking alcohol can help reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea. So can quitting smoking.
If you’re considering treatments for OSA, you’ve already set yourself up on the road to making big, positive changes for your sleep and your health. Know your options and discuss with your doctor the type of therapy that seems best suited to you. If you start a treatment, give it some time to become part of your routine—but don’t be afraid to talk with your doctor if you’re having trouble sticking with your OSA therapy. When it comes to successfully treating sleep apnea, consistency is key.