What's the Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

A fellow caregiver asked...

What's the treatment for obstructive sleep apnea?

Expert Answer

Craig Schwimmer, MD, MPH, is a board-certified otolaryngologist, a head and neck surgeon who focuses on snoring and sleep apnea. He is the medical director of the Snoring Center, a leading provider of minimally invasive treatment for sleep-disordered breathing, located in Dallas.

If you've been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, it's likely your doctor will first suggest fitting you with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device, a specially designed nasal mask that blows air directly into your airways. Studies have shown CPAP masks to be extremely effective in treating sleep apnea -- but many people, understandably, don't like wearing them. In fact, studies show that after a year, only about half the patients are still using them regularly.

Still, a CPAP is worth a try because if it works, it works very well, and you'll immediately benefit from deep, restful sleep. However, if this doesn't prove to be the case for you, or you don't like wearing it, you should consider other treatment options. These include surgery; oral appliances; and newer, minimally invasive treatment.

The good news is that the spectrum of available treatments has broadened enormously in the past few years, so there are many options we can offer patients. In the past few years a number of minimally invasive surgical techniques have been developed that can be done in the doctor's office. These include the Pillar procedure, which involves using permanent stitches to firm up the soft palate; Coblation, which uses radiofrequency to shrink nasal tissues; and even use of a carbon dioxide laser to shrink the tonsils. None of these requires anesthesia, and all allow you to be in and out and back to work the same day.

In my opinion, the most important thing is that all patients with sleep apnea find treatment options that make sense for them, that they can actually use and benefit from.