Can Sleep Apnea be Cured? – The Answer Doesn’t Have to be a CPAP Machine!
Is it possible for sleep apnea to go away – maybe even be cured?
Sleep apnea is prevalent in around 18 million Americans. With so many plagued by the chronic condition, we have to ask: what are the best treatment options? Are there alternative treatments that are equal to or better than a CPAP machine? Let’s dive into it all in this guide.
Is a CPAP Machine the Only Treatment for Sleep Apnea?
A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine is favorably considered the most effective treatment for OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea). The machine can help improve sleep and mood, potentially lower blood pressure, and more. With the continued use of a CPAP, many experience life-changing benefits.
However, there are downsides to using such a machine, which we’ll touch on in a couple of sections. It’s likely why one-third of the people who try CPAP machines don’t end up sticking with them.
While a CPAP machine is a standard treatment for sleep apnea, it’s not the sole treatment available. In fact, there are a wide array of alternatives, which we’ll discuss in more detail later in this guide.
So, in short, a CPAP machine is not the only treatment for sleep apnea.
Can Sleep Apnea be “Cured”?
Unfortunately, there’s no outright cure for sleep apnea yet.
However, it can be treated with the right combination of life changes.
And CPAP machines aren’t the only treatment options available. But you might be wondering – what’s wrong with a CPAP machine? Let’s answer why someone might look at an alternative.
Why Use a CPAP Machine Alternative?
Sometimes, a CPAP machine simply won’t do the trick – and there are several potential reasons why. Some common reasons are that the device is either too noisy, uncomfortable, clunky, or a combination of all three.
Maintaining CPAP compliance can be an enormous inconvenience to some. And still, others have difficulty tolerating the continuous airflow. Mask leaks, claustrophobia, nasal dryness, and dry mouth are just some of the range of problems one might experience with the device.
And, in worse cases, the machine outright doesn’t help with sleep apnea symptoms.
And if you’re a mouth breather in your sleep, you’ll likely have difficulty using the machine. You can, but you risk waking up with a dry throat and nose. That’s a reason to abandon the device in its own right.
9+ Alternatives to a CPAP Machine for Sleep Apnea
On the bright side, several popular alternatives exist to using a CPAP machine for OSA. Let’s look at alternative devices, lifestyle changes, and other things to consider.
You can make several lifestyle changes to help manage your sleep apnea symptoms. These changes may benefit you regardless of whether you use a CPAP machine.
Change Your Sleeping Position
First, try out some new sleeping positions!
A 2013 clinical review of 20 years of sleep apnea research finds 56% of users with OSA have position-dependent OSA – also known as POSA. The solution is to use pillows and/or wearable devices that help support side sleeping.
Along with positional therapy, this alternative is extremely affordable and highly effective for treating POSA.
If you’re a back sleeper, try to switch to your side. Back sleeping exacerbates sleep apnea symptoms the worst, so try to steer clear of that position. This’ll also help you determine whether your OSA is position-dependent.
Maybe you find it difficult to train yourself to sleep on your side. Fortunately, there are devices you can wear that provide vibration feedback whenever you roll onto your back. Therefore, it helps prevent you from being in positions that aren’t ideal.
Not able to sleep on your side? Opt for a thicker pillow that props up your knees and a flatter pillow that stops the head from tilting forward while still supporting it. Alternatively, if you’re a tried-and-true back sleeper, a wedge pillow under your back can give you a more upright position.
According to a comprehensive 2014 study, cigarette smoking can increase the severity of OSA. Smoking can constrict the muscles of the respiratory system, reduce the ability to wake up naturally, inflame the upper airway, and disrupt the natural sleep rhythm of your body.
Tied with a separate 2019 study, we can conclude that smokers have a likelihood of experiencing more apnea events. Smokers might also experience more levels of anytime sleepiness and lower blood-oxygen levels as a result.
It’s well-known that alcohol can disrupt your sleep. It can prevent the brain from entering REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which is the body’s way of “deep” sleeping. With alcohol, it’s hard to experience true rest – which can especially be a problem for those that experience sleep apnea.
A 2018 comprehensive review of 14 studies found that there’s a link between alcohol consumption and more frequent, longer sleep apnea events, along with drastically lower blood-oxygen levels. The meta-analysis confirms that alcohol consumption may open up the risk for developing or worsening OSA.
Some surprisingly effective and simple sleep apnea exercises may help people reduce symptoms. The goal is to improve breathing through a consistent exercise routine. Weight loss can also be attributed to weight loss, which is also beneficial in reducing symptoms of sleep apnea.
Some OSA exercises include yoga, mild cardio and stretching routines, and especially oropharyngeal exercises.
Targeted oropharyngeal exercises are what help keep the throat and mouth strong. Ideally, that can help reduce the amount of obstruction in the throat over time. In fact, a 2013 clinical review of numerous studies confirms that exercise can drastically reduce sleep apnea symptoms.
Commit to a Weight Loss Plan
Often, what goes hand in hand with exercise is a solid weight loss plan. That’s because there’s a relationship between sleep apnea and weight gain, according to research. People that are overweight may have fat deposits around the neck, which, in turn, makes it difficult to breathe while sleeping because it blocks the upper airway.
By making the necessary lifestyle changes to lose weight, you can reduce your symptoms and improve your breathing.
Alternative Sleep Apnea Devices
The CPAP machine is not the only device that can help with sleep apnea. On the contrary, let’s look at other sleep apnea devices that deserve more attention.
Oral Appliances & Mouth Guards
Possibly some of the least invasive alternatives to a CPAP machine are mouth guards and other oral appliances. Many are also helpful for snoring prevention.
These devices include the anti-snoring mouth guard, tongue stabilizing device, tongue retaining device, and even the Mandibular Advancement Device (MAD).
The downside is that not many people experience full relief of their sleep apnea symptoms from using a mouth device alone. However, an oral appliance along with lifestyle changes might do the trick.
Upper Airway Stimulation (UAS) Device
A relatively newly FDA-approved item for sleep apnea is the UAS (Upper Airway Stimulation) device. As the new kid on the block, a UAS is a surgically-implanted nerve stimulator. It stimulates respiratory muscles to keep your airway open and detects your breathing.
However, this one’s off the list for those who haven’t tried PAP technology first. While it’s a revolutionary solution, it should not be the first thing people jump to as a treatment option. It’s ideal for moderate to severe sleep apnea users who can’t be treated effectively with PAP therapy.
Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP)
Known as BiPAP machines, they’re quite similar to CPAP machines. However, unlike CPAPs, BiPAPs use two distinct pressure settings. One is for exhaling and one’s for inhaling. Compare that to the continuous pressure of a CPAP machine and you can see why many might prefer a BiPAP.
Unfortunately, BiPAP machines tend to be more pricey than standard CPAP machines. Likewise, fewer BiPAPs are covered by insurance.
If that’s the case for you, check instead if your CPAP machine has an exhalation relief setting. As devices become more modern, more offer this adjustable setting. It makes exhaling against the therapeutic air much easier.
Adaptive Servo Ventilation (ASV)
As a newer PAP device on the market, ASV has already made a name for itself. For comparison, CPAP machines often use fixed pressure. Meanwhile, ASV machines respond to your breathing feedback and adjust air pressure accordingly.
It’s similar to BiPAP machines, but it’s even better at accounting for pauses and other factors with the right air pressure adjustment. The best part is that it adapts to your body, making it typically more comfortable than a CPAP machine.
If you have certain pre-existing conditions, however, the ASV machine may not be suitable for you. Rather, adaptive servo ventilation machines are typically brought in as a last resort if BiPAPs and CPAPs aren’t working.
Mouth Breather When You Sleep? Try This.
If you find you’re a mouth breather in the evening, you’ll also find fewer alternatives. Fortunately, there are still a few helpful strategies.
Antihistamine or Nasal Decongestant
Surprisingly, a regular antihistamine or nasal decongestant might be just what you need to help with your sleep apnea symptoms. These allergy medications can relax breathing muscles and induce sleepiness.
Do note, though, treating allergies is often only helpful for milder cases of OSA. The medications also have an added bonus of helping with your allergies throughout the day if you’re prone to those. For some people with sleep apnea, this might be a win-win.
Try a Different Sleep Position!
As we mentioned above, you might sometimes need to experiment with a new sleeping position. Determine if your sleep apnea is position-related. Try either sleeping on your side.
If you must sleep on your back, try elevating your head up with a pillow to sleep on an incline.
Potential Surgery Intervention
In some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary. Surgery is, of course, a last resort to treating sleep apnea symptoms.
It’s important to note that even surgery is not a cure, however. There are a wide variety of results that can come from these types of surgeries. The results are often less effective than what CPAP therapy can typically do.
In that same breath, though, surgery can also be life-saving. CPAP machines are not the end-all be-all to sleep apnea, and some people cannot effectively be treated with CPAP therapy.
Surgery also looks different for everyone.
Some people may need soft palate procedures, while others need hypopharyngeal (“below-the-pharynx”) procedures.
It ultimately depends on what is obstructing your breathing while sleeping. Some procedures might include jaw advancement surgery or hypoglossal nerve stimulation. Still, some cases may require a simple tonsillectomy.
It’s good to be aware of all your options and discuss with your specialist what’s most appropriate for you.
What to Use Instead of a CPAP Machine While Traveling
We’ll say it – it’s a massive hassle to travel with your CPAP machine. Anyone who’s tried knows how inconvenient of a process it is. While there are CPAP machines that are more compact and designed for travel use, there are also alternatives to treating your sleep apnea while not at home.
Nasal breathing strips are a potential option to consider. Additionally, you might pack a travel humidifier to help increase the air’s moisture. You can use various sleep apnea mouthpieces. Or, when in doubt, try to switch up those sleeping positions.
Managing your Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a necessity for your overall health. Therefore, finding a treatment option you’re most comfortable with should be a priority. We hope this guide helped you see a variety of CPAP alternatives that can, overall, improve your quality of life.
Make those lifestyle changes, switch up your sleeping position, and try out some things you’ve never tried before. Everyone is different, so there’s no telling what will help you the most until you find out for yourself!