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Blog Feature

By: Rita Brooks on August 14th, 2017

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5 Alternative Sleep Apnea Treatment Options

Sleep Technologist Advice

If your patients don't want to wear a CPAP mask, then you can try recommending alternative sleep apnea treatment options. We've written about how sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that requires professional medical attention when diagnosed.

CPAP therapy is one of the most common treatment methods technologists and sleep physicians recommend to those who have sleep apnea. But what if a patient prefers to avoid CPAP therapy altogether?

The good news is that there are several alternative sleep apnea treatment options available to those who want to avoid wearing a mask as much as possible. Below, we've listed 5 alternatives.


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1. Wear An Oral/Dental Appliance Instead

sleep apnea treatment optionsWe've written about how dental and oral appliances have emerged as a popular option for sleep apnea patients (as well as the pros and cons of using this treatment method) but here's a refresher.

Patients who prefer to wear an oral device instead of wearing a CPAP mask have become increasingly comfortable with this treatment option.

How It Works

Oral sleep apnea treatment devices prevent the airway from collapsing by holding the tongue in position or by sliding the patient's jaw forward so patients can breathe while they sleep.

A sleep technologist can titrate an oral appliance fitted by a dental professional trained in sleep medicine.

Who Is It For?

Oral appliance therapy is recommended for patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea who cannot tolerate CPAP.

2. Surgery for Sleep Apnea

How It Works

The most common options reduce or eliminate the extra tissue in your throat that collapses and blocks your airway during sleep. 

Keep in mind that while some surgeries may be minimally invasive, others can be more complex. But generally undergoing surgery to treat sleep apnea means surgery in one of the following areas:

  • Soft palate and uvula
  • Tonsils and adenoids
  • Tongue
  • Upper and lower jaw

If your patient is considering surgery to treat their sleep apnea, they may ask the following questions:

  • What is the success rate of the surgery?
  • How will this procedure improve my snoring or sleep apnea?
  • Why is surgery a better option for me than CPAP or oral appliance therapy?
  • What are all of the possible risks and side effects?

Surgery is not the right choice for everyone. Some people may benefit more from surgery than others. Negative aspects of surgery may include:

  • Pain
  • Bleeding and throat swelling
  • Jaws wired shut for several days and a limited diet for several weeks
  • Overnight hospital stay

In many cases, the benefits may not be permanent. Sleep apnea may reoccur at a later time for some patients.

sleep apnea treatment options

Who Is It For?

Surgical therapies are not as effective in treating sleep apnea as CPAP and oral appliances. There are a variety of surgical options that may work for your patients if CPAP or oral appliance therapy do not.

3. Undergoing a Weight Management Program

sleep apnea treatment optionsIn some cases, weight loss can help improve or eliminate your patient's sleep apnea symptoms if they are overweight or obese.  Overweight people often have thick necks with extra tissue in the throat that may block the airway.

Who Is It For?

This is for people who are overweight and are physically able to engage in a weight management program. There is no guarantee that losing weight will eliminate their sleep apnea, though it may help.

What to Keep In Mind

This approach is unlikely to make a difference in patients with a narrow nasal passage or airway.

4. Positional Therapy

What is positional therapy?

sleep apnea treatment optionsPositional therapy is a behavioral strategy to treat positional sleep apnea. Some people have sleep apnea primarily when sleeping on their back. This is called the “supine” position. Their breathing returns to normal when they sleep on their side.

Positional therapy may involve wearing a special device around your waist or back. It keeps you sleeping in the side position.

Who Is It For?

In a clinical study published in 2012, scientists tested the long term efficacy of this therapy and found that positional therapy can be an effective form of treatment. They tested patients with "positional OSA who refused or could not tolerate continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)."

5. Consider Changing Some of Your Everyday Habits

sleep apnea treatment optionsThere are a variety of lifestyle changes that your patients can make to help reduce their snoring and improve their sleep apnea symptoms. Behavioral changes such as quitting smoking or not drinking alcohol may improve sleep apnea symptoms.

Alcohol relaxes your throat muscles which can cause you to snore or your airway to collapse. If your patients have allergies, taking a decongestant before they go to bed may help improve airflow through their nose.

If your patients have difficulty staying with their treatment plan or cannot sleep well even with treatment, you may recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. A behavioral sleep specialist will help them eliminate the thoughts and behaviors that may be preventing them from getting restful sleep or complying with their treatment.

Key Takeaway:

  • If your patients don't want to wear a CPAP mask, then you can try recommending alternative sleep apnea treatment options.
  • Five alternative sleep apnea treatment options include:
    • Wearing an oral/dental appliance to help prevent the airway from collapsing.
    • Getting surgery to potentially reduce or eliminate the extra tissue in your patient's throat.
    • Undergoing a weight management program to potentially improve or eliminate your patient's sleep apnea symtpoms.
    • Partaking in positional therapy to treat positional sleep apnea.
    • Considering changing some everyday habits, such as negative behavioral actions.

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