About sleep apnea

Is there a sleep apnea cure?

Is there a sleep apnea cure? For central sleep apnea: No. For obstructive sleep apnea: possibly surgery (ie, a tracheostomy), though it’s highly invasive, requires a special plug or tube to talk normally, and other harmful potential side effects common to any surgery. While this was the primary treatment for severe sleep apnea before CPAP was invented, today it’s usually only used in very severe cases that cannot be otherwise treated, due to its risks and life-altering nature.1

Aside from surgery, there are many falsely labeled “cures” that will not solve your sleep apnea, though they may help reduce your sleep apnea symptoms. You should talk with your doctor about the pros and cons of each. And always ask your doctor before trying any sort of medical treatment, homeopathic or otherwise.

Falsely labeled sleep apnea “cures”

  • Weight loss may be able to reduce symptoms in some people with obstructive sleep apnea whose excess weight is causing or worsening their airway’s collapse. It could also help reduce the CPAP air pressure required to treat their apneas. While weight loss through a very low-calorie diet and an active lifestyle may be “a feasible and effective treatment” for those with mild sleep apnea,2 any future weight gain could cause the symptoms to return.
  • Dieting and exercising are not cures for the same reasons as above. However, it may help improve your sleep apnea symptoms.3
  • Avoiding alcohol might help keep your airway muscles from relaxing too much, but it doesn’t prevent the obstruction. Regardless, it is still a good idea to avoid alcohol at night to improve your overall sleep quality.4
  • Avoiding sleeping on your back may prevent your tongue from falling back into your throat, but obstruction can occur in other areas of the airway as well. (The same goes for elevating your head with pillows.)
  • Using a nasal spray or external nasal strips does not improve your sleep apnea symptoms. These are designed to help your nose take in its maximum amount of air, which may be useful depending on your symptoms. However, the obstruction causing your apneas occurs at the back of your throat.

What sleep apnea treatment is best for me?

You and your doctor should always come up with that answer together. The medical community regards CPAP treatment as the gold standard. Oral appliances may be effective for those with mild-to-moderate sleep apnea or those with severe symptoms who cannot use CPAP.

 


References

  1. Harvard Medical School. Apnea: Surgical treatments. Last reviewed February 11, 2011. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/sleep-apnea/treating-osa/surgical (accessed July 29, 2015).
  2. Tuomilehto HP et al. Lifestyle intervention with weight reduction: First-line treatment in mild obstructive sleep apnea. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2009;179(4):320–7.
  3. Boyles S. Weight loss may improve sleep apnea. Ed. Martin LJ. http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-apnea/news/20110601/weight-loss-may-improve-sleep-apnea (accessed July 29, 2015).
  4. Ebrahim IO et al. Alcohol and sleep I: Effects on normal sleep. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 2013;37(4):539–49.

 

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