Treatment Pulmonology

Sleep Apnea
Treatments

Sleep apnea rarely goes away without treatment. Treatments include lifestyle changes and behavior modification, such as losing weight, sleeping on your side or stomach and not on your back, and avoiding alcohol two to three hours before going to bed.

If those efforts fail, the most effective treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A mask covers your nose and mouth and is attached to a device that pumps a continuous flow of air while you sleep. Air flowing into your nostrils helps keep airways open.

Many patients find the mask uncomfortable and give up on treatment, but with practice, you can learn how to adjust the mask and adapt to the air pressure. You may need to try more than one type of mask before you find the one that works best for you.

New devices also are being developed to improve comfort:

  • Humidifier Air pumped by the CPAP device may cause dryness in the nasal passages and throat, sore tongue and nose bleeds. A CPAP humidifier helps alleviate the side effects.
  • Nasal Pillow The CPAP nasal pillow is smaller than the conventional mask and plugs into the nostrils, making breathing more comfortable.
  • Pressure Relief Exhaling against air pressure can be uncomfortable. A device, called CPAP pressure relief, automatically adjusts the air presssure when you inhale and exhale. The device flexes down air pressure when you start to exhale, then flexes up to treatment level when you inhale for better comfort.

Other treatments are:

  • Dental devices to open the throat by forcing the lower jaw forward.
  • Surgery by an otolaryngologist or head and neck surgeon to open breathing passages by repositioning or removing tissue of the nose, throat and jaw.
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeons can surgically reposition your jaw to open your throat.

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.

Recommended reading

Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

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Melatonin and Sleeping Pills

Melatonin is a hormone naturally found in the brain. In the absence of light, the pineal gland secretes melatonin, which may make you sleepy. Learn more here.

Overnight Sleep Study

At the UCSF Sleep Disorders Center, one of the methods we use to diagnose sleep disorders is an overnight sleep study. Learn more here.

Sleep Quiz

This quiz has been designed to help you identify potential sleep problems. Check the symptoms here that describe how you sleep.

Snoring

An estimated 20 percent of the population snores. Snoring is a symptom of a narrow or closed airway that can be caused by a number of things. Learn more here.

Tips for a Better Night's Sleep

Patients with sleep problems can follow some simple guidelines for a better night's sleep including: maintaining a regular sleep schedule and avoiding naps.

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