Are There Any Alternative Treatments for Sleep Apnea Besides CPAP?

Sleep apnea treatment

If you have a sleep apnea diagnosis, you know that treatment isn’t optional.

With obstructive sleep apnea, your airway becomes obstructed and you stop breathing up to hundreds of times per night. This causes repeated oxygen drops, prolonged periods of low oxygen levels in your blood, and disrupted sleep. You’re likely also suffering from daytime fatigue and maybe even additional health repercussions as a result. 

If you have sleep apnea, it needs to be treated. The question then becomes, “Which sleep apnea treatment is right for me?”

CPAP Therapy

CPAP therapy is the gold standard treatment for sleep apnea, they say. So your doctor writes you a prescription for a CPAP machine: a machine that attaches to a hose, which connects to a mask, which blows pressurized air into your lungs. The system is designed to act as a splint and hold your airway open all night long. 

If you opt to go this route, you’ll jump through all the hoops to get sized for a mask, choose a kind of mask, and order the supplies. Now you’re set up! You’re ready for a good night of restful sleep… finally.

But what happens if you find that on your first night of sleep, you get less sleep than you normally do? You might wake up more. You may toss and turn, yanking the mask off in frustration. You finally fall asleep with the mask on to find out the next morning it’s off again. 

You may even try switching masks. The CPAP mask works for you whenever you wear it, but getting the minimum 4 hours per night usage that’s required for insurance to cover the device can been difficult.

If this describes your scenario, you’re not alone. While CPAP therapy is a great solution for those who need it and can adjust, 50 percent of people who are prescribed CPAP therapy struggle to continue with it and are non-compliant one year later. 

What next? 

If you’ve tried CPAP therapy without success and you’re ready to explore some other options, the good news is that there are other options.

First, you’ll need to understand that there are degrees of sleep apnea that can range from mild to severe. The way this is determined is by your AHI, or the average number of breathing pauses you experience per hour. 

  • If your AHI is lower than 5, that’s within normal range and you don’t have sleep apnea
  • An AHI ranging from 5-15 indicates mild sleep apnea
  • An AHI ranging from 15-30 indicates moderate sleep apnea
  • And if your AHI is above 30, your sleep apnea is in the severe category

Based on that, along with the cause of your sleep apnea, there are different alternative treatments that could work for you.

Mild Sleep Apnea 

If your sleep apnea is very mild, all you might need to do is make a few behavioral changes. These might include losing weight (if weight is a factor in your sleep apnea), sleeping on your side or abdomen instead of on your back, and reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption. If behavioral changes aren’t enough, then a custom-made night guard might be a good solution for you. 

Mild to Moderate Sleep Apnea 

If your sleep apnea is mild or moderate, a custom-made oral appliance could be the best fit. How does it work? 

An oral appliance prevents your jaw from collapsing by either holding your tongue or gently bringing your jaw forward. This helps hold your airway open and works as an occlusal splint in the same way pressurized air from a CPAP machine would. 

The good news is that a custom-made nightguard was shown to be just as effective at treating mild to moderate cases of obstructive sleep apnea as CPAP therapy. 

Severe Sleep Apnea 

If your sleep apnea is severe, you probably need to stick with your CPAP machine. And depending on the structure of your mouth and nasal passages and if there is a structural factor to your sleep apnea, you may even be a candidate for surgery. Another good option for severe sleep apnea, in some cases, is a combination of CPAP therapy and a custom night guard used together. 

If there’s no way out of CPAP therapy for you, there are ways to make it better. 

If you’re just getting started with CPAP therapy and having trouble, practice using your CPAP mask while you’re awake. You can wear it while reading, watching TV, or even scrolling through social media. 

If you haven’t tried it yet, switching masks might be the key. If you find that you’re most comfortable with nasal pillows but your nose is stuffy, you can always try a nasal spray and adjust the humidity and heat on the machine. And if it’s the pressure that bothers you, ask your doctor about starting with a lower pressure and working your way up.

The bottom line is that it’s important to find a treatment that works so you can breathe properly at night and finally get the rest your body needs. If you would like to see if a sleep appliance would be the solution to your sleep apnea, contact us at Hite Family Dentistry