Like all sleep disorders, the treatment for sleep apnoea usually depends on the underlying cause. Once our doctors have worked out what’s triggering your symptoms, they can recommend the best course of action.
Here are the most common ways to manage sleep apnoea symptoms and, in some cases, get rid of them altogether.
As being overweight is one of the biggest triggers of sleep apnoea, losing weight can be a way to get rid of your symptoms.
Obviously, this isn’t always easy. Weight gain can be caused by habits that are difficult to change, but our doctors can help you put together a balanced diet and exercise plan that will help you make the positive changes you need.
Change your sleeping position
Sleeping on your back often makes snoring worse, and this is especially true if you have sleep apnoea. Being on your back makes it more likely that the flesh in your neck will block your airways, so sleeping on your front or your side can make this less likely.
However, changing your sleeping position is easier said than done, as you can’t control what your body does when you’re asleep.
You might be familiar with the old trick of taping a tennis ball to the back of your pyjamas to stop yourself rolling onto your back. While this can work, a sleep specialist can provide you with a slightly more sophisticated device than this, which will help keep your body on its side while you’re asleep.
Break unhealthy habits
In some cases, simply reducing or reversing an unhealthy habit can remove one of the factors that trigger your symptoms. For example, you could:
- Cut back on alcohol
- Quit smoking
- Avoid sleeping tablets
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Device
A CPAP Device passes air into your airways while you sleep, in order to keep your airways open throughout the night. It comes with a mask that can cover your nose and mouth, or just your nose, depending on the severity of your symptoms.
If a CPAP Device doesn’t work, you might be given a Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BPAP) Device, which provides different air pressures for breathing in and breathing out.
A CPAP or BPAP device can feel quite unnatural at first, so it might take a bit of getting used to. Some people experience:
- Discomfort or irritation from the mask
- A blocked, runny or irritated nose
- Ear ache
- Stomach ache
- Bloating or flatulence
If you notice any of these side effects, it’s important that you don’t simply stop using your CPAP or BPAP Device. Speak to your GP about whether or not a different size or type of mask would be appropriate. In some cases, adjusting the air pressure can help too.
Mandibular Advancement Device (MAD)
An MAD is a gum shield that holds your tongue and lower jaw forward, away from your throat. It’s normally reserved for patients with mild sleep apnoea, as it hasn’t proved effective in more severe cases.
Treating sleep apnoea with surgery will only ever be considered as a last resort, if your condition is severely affecting your quality of life and all other treatment options have been exhausted.
This is partly because non-invasive treatments, such as CPAP, have been shown to be effective. Doctors will also assess the possibility of side effects, and whether the potential outcome outweighs the risks involved.
It’s sometimes used if your sleep apnoea is caused by an unusual neck structure that is restricting your airflow.
Can you be cured of sleep apnoea?
In some cases, making the lifestyle changes suggested by your doctor can make your symptoms disappear completely. However, they can always return if you revert to your old habits. Surgery can cure you, but it’s not guaranteed to work and there are risks involved.
CPAPs and MADs can manage your symptoms very effectively, but they aren’t a cure and you will probably have to use them long-term, if not for the rest of your life.