Treating Sleep Apnea 

Common treatments for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) include advice on lifestyle changes, the use of an MAD and the use of breathing apparatus while you are asleep.

Lifestyle changes – Mild cases only

Mild cases of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) can usually be treated by making lifestyle changes, if they apply, such as:

  • losing weight if you are overweight or obese
  • stopping smoking
  • limiting your alcohol consumption

It is recommended that men should not regularly drink more than 3 to 4 units of alcohol a day and women should not regularly drink more than 2 to 3 units of alcohol a day. In addition, If you’ve had a heavy drinking session, you should avoid alcohol for the next 48 hours.

‘Regularly’ means drinking these amounts every day or most days of the week.

One unit of alcohol is equal to half a pint of normal-strength beer, a small glass of wine or a pub measure (25ml) of spirits.

Stopping smoking can also help sleep apnoea to resolve

Sleeping on your side, rather than on your back, may also help to relieve the symptoms of OSA, although it will not prevent the condition.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) – Moderate to Severe cases

Moderate to severe cases of sleep apnoea may need to be treated using a type of treatment called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This involves using breathing apparatus to assist with your breathing while you are asleep. A mask is placed over your nose, which delivers a continuous supply of compressed air. The compressed air prevents the airway in your throat from closing.

Many versions of CPAP equipment cause nasal dryness, nosebleeds and a sore throat. However, some recent versions include a humidifier which helps to reduce these side effects.

CPAP is available on the NHS and it is an effective therapy for treating very severe cases of OSA. It reduces blood pressure and the risk of stroke by 40%, and lowers the risk of heart complications by 20%.

However many patients find it both difficult and uncomfortable as a course of treatment to pursue due to the many possible side effects which include:

  • Mask discomfort
  • Nasal congestion, runny nose or irritation
  • Difficulty breathing through your nose
  • Headaches and ear pain
  • Stomach pain and flatulence (wind)

If you have any of these side effects from COAP, you must discuss them with your sleep specialist who may be able to suggest an alternative treatment.

Mandibular Advancement device (MAD) – Mild & Moderate cases

A mandibular responding splint (MRS) is sometimes referred to as a mandibular advancement device or MAD. It is a dental appliance, similar to a gum shield, and is used to treat mild sleep apnoea and although extremely successful where used It is not recommended for more severe sleep apnoea.

An MRS is worn over your teeth when you are asleep. It is designed to hold your jaw and tongue forward to increase the space at the back of your throat and reduce the narrowing of your airway that causes snoring.

‘Off-the-shelf’ MSRs are available but most experts recommend either a MAD that is adjustable such as the unique sleepPro SFA, or their full Custom mouthpiece that is quickly made to your precise requirements, and at a very affordable price compared with those made by dentists.

Not sure if you have OSA – or just snore heavily?

Check further with The British Lung Foundation and look on their website which offers a simple online checklist that will help to advise you – see how you rank on the same method recommended by the BLF for use by your GP.

Look up the BLF Test that is suggested to GPs – The Epworth Scale
By John Redfern