If your have sleep apnea, your doctor may prescribe treatment with CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). This is an air pump attached to a mask via tubing, which is very effective at keeping your throat open while you sleep. The devices have been improved in recent years—and are now less cumbersome, quieter and less likely to cause claustrophobia.
There are also custom-made mandibular advancement devices (made by dentists who specialize in apnea) that pull the tongue and jaw (mandible) forward while you sleep. Some reviews have found they are not as effective as CPAP, though compliance rates tend to be higher.
A new device called Provent, sold by prescription, may be a more manageable alternative to CPAP for mild sleep apnea. It consists of two small patches with valves that you insert into each nostril at night. Though not much is known about its effectiveness, a company-sponsored study found that Provent decreased apnea episodes. Provent is probably best used only under certain circumstances, such as if you are traveling and can’t or don’t want to take the bulky CPAP machine with you.
Medication: A new Cochrane review on drug therapy for sleep apnea concluded that while small studies have found short-term benefits from a wide range of drugs, there’s insufficient evidence to recommend them.
Surgery: This should be considered only as a last resort. The standard procedure widens the airway and/or corrects other physical problems that contribute to sleep apnea. This is major, painful surgery that can have adverse effects and doesn’t help everyone. There are also less invasive options, notably laser surgery, as well as the Pillar procedure, in which three tiny inserts are implanted into the soft palate in the back of the mouth.