The best way to deal with sleep apnea is to not deal with it. Sometimes that’s not an option though, leading many to wonder: can sleep apnea be cured?
We’re all familiar with the adage “prevention is the best cure.” It’s a wise statement— but sometimes prevention isn’t always possible. Take for example, the dreaded cold and flu season. You wash your hands often, you avoid people who may be ill, and you take plenty of care not to get sick. Despite your valiant efforts, sometimes that seasonal bug just has a way of slipping through the cracks and making you sick. Unfortunately, at this point, there is no cure for the common cold— all you can really do is treat your symptoms to limit their effects.
Sleep apnea is no different. Despite continued research to understand the disorder and look for a cure, all we can do if we have the disorder is treat it so we can prevent further complications down the line.
So Can Sleep Apnea be Cured?
No— sleep apnea cannot be cured. With all disorders big or small, we always hope that there is a cure for them so we can get back to living life the way we used to and feeling healthy again.
Unlike the many diseases that are preventable with vaccinations and herd immunity or can be cured with medication, sleep apnea is incurable for specific reasons that can vary from person to person.
Why is Sleep Apnea Incurable?
Sleep apnea won’t go away on its own because it’s a condition caused by your anatomy. Unlike changing the appearance of your hair or changing up your wardrobe, you can’t alter your anatomy on a whim. Sleep apnea may also have genetic causes that can make you more likely to develop the disorder.
Obstructive sleep apnea is most often caused by physical factors, such as:
- A small lower jaw
- Large tonsils
- A thicker neck
- Skull or facial abnormalities, such as a cleft palate
Generally, obesity can be controlled by a healthy lifestyle, a balanced diet, and regular moderate exercise. However, the other factors aren’t anything you have control over.
In the case of central sleep apnea, a different form of sleep apnea, that condition is a result of your brain misfiring signals to your airways, obstructing them while you sleep. Unfortunately, this sleep apnea trigger is hard-wired into your brain and can’t be easily altered. The same goes for complex sleep apnea— which is caused by both CSA’s misfires in the brain.
However, while sleep apnea cannot be cured, it can be reliably corrected with the right treatment.
How to Treat Sleep Apnea
The most well-known treatment option for all forms of sleep apnea is CPAP therapy. CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, prevents breathing disruptions by gently unblocking your airways with a constant stream of pressurized air. This stream of air is delivered to your airway via your CPAP mask.
CPAP treatment is the most well-known sleep apnea treatment because it’s the most effective. However, it only works as well as it can if you use it properly and stick to your treatment regimen.
Can You Treat Sleep Apnea without CPAP Therapy?
Alternative therapies for sleep apnea like oral appliance therapy, BiPAP therapy, or sleep apnea surgery exist and could provide you with some much-needed relief from your sleep apnea symptoms.
However, it’s important to understand that alternatives to CPAP are only viable in very specific circumstances, such as in dangerously severe sleep apnea cases where CPAP therapy has failed.
If you’re not sure if your CPAP therapy is as effective as it should be, talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist. They can help you find a solution to make your CPAP treatment more effective or may even recommend an alternative if they think it may benefit you.
Can Weight Loss Cure Sleep Apnea?
Remember, there is no cure for sleep apnea. Weight loss will not cure sleep apnea, but it can reduce the severity of your symptoms.
Obesity is one of the main risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea, and reducing your excess body weight can relieve some of the pressure placed on your airways each night, allowing you to breathe more easily and sleep better.
One study also found that obese patients with obstructive sleep apnea had significantly larger tongues and a higher percentage of tongue fat than obese patients that did not have OSA did. Researchers observed that participants that lost weight over time saw significant improvement in their sleep apnea symptoms.
One unexpected benefit to this weight loss was that these patients saw size reductions in certain jaw and throat muscles that also provided improvements to their sleep apnea symptoms. 
5 Ways to Reduce Your Sleep Apnea Risk (Or Ease Your Symptoms)
Even if you can’t cure sleep apnea, there are still ways to reduce the severity of your symptoms or your overall risk if you don’t have the disorder. While CPAP therapy is considered a necessary treatment for your sleep apnea, there are steps you can take to improve your sleep further. Here are our top five recommendations.
1. Lose Weight
We’ve talked about this already, so we won’t spend too much time on this one.
Losing weight can help relieve the extra pressure around your lungs and airways, helping them stay more open while you sleep. A 10-15 percent weight loss for obese patients can reduce their OSA severity by 50 percent!
In addition to that, sticking to your CPAP therapy while following a healthy weight loss routine can result in even greater weight loss. 
2. Quit Smoking
Smoking can worsen a lot of health conditions— sleep apnea included. More research is needed to identify a solid link between smoking and sleep apnea, but those who smoke are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than people who have never smoked.
Smoking before bed also inflames and irritates your upper airway, contributing to sleep apnea symptoms.
The best way to prevent this is to kick the habit. While much easier said than done, even reducing your nicotine intake can help you breathe better immediately and sleep better in the long run.
3. Get Up and Move!
Weight loss is not the only benefit you can reap with regular moderate exercise. Simply increasing your activity level can reduce your risk of developing sleep apnea.
One study found that participants who spent four or more hours daily watching TV had a 78 percent higher OSA risk, while those who worked sedentary jobs (such as desk jobs) had a 49 percent higher risk. On the other hand, more active participants had significantly lower sleep apnea risk than the other participants.
4. Exercise Your Breathing Muscles
Loud snoring is probably the best-known symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. However, you can reduce or even eliminate that loud snoring with the right nose, mouth, and throat exercises.
These exercises can tone the floppy or protruding muscles in your airway contributing to your sleep apnea symptoms. They can also help open and strengthen your airway muscles so you can breathe more efficiently each night.
5. Avoid Alcohol before Bed
Many adults enjoy a cold beer, a glass of wine, or a cocktail in the evening. Alcohol’s sedative effect can help you fall asleep (which is why many use it as a sleep aid), but you may want to reconsider that nightcap if you want a good night’s sleep— especially if you have sleep apnea.
Alcohol depresses your central nervous system, meaning that it’s more difficult for your body to breathe as efficiently as it should. Alcohol can also cause you to snore because it can relax the muscles in your airway. This in turn causes them to sag and obstruct your airways, which can be especially bad if you have sleep apnea.
You don’t have to give up alcohol entirely to breathe better at night though. Just remember to limit yourself to just one or two drinks, and stop consuming alcohol at least 4 hours before bed. This ensures that all that alcohol is out of your system before you lay down for the night.
What Can’t be Cured Must be Endured— Or Treated
Sleep apnea cannot be cured, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be treated. The correct sleep apnea treatment can make handling the disorder much easier, and the right lifestyle choices can help reduce the severity of your symptoms.
However, it’s difficult to receive the appropriate treatment for sleep apnea if you don’t know that you have it. If you’re worried that you might have untreated sleep apnea, take our sleep apnea quiz. It can help you make better sense of your symptoms so you can discuss them with your doctor or a sleep specialist. A sleep specialist may also recommend an overnight sleep study to evaluate your sleep patterns and determine whether or not sleep apnea is ruining your rest.
As the adage says, “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure,” so any preventative steps you can take towards sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea can help you sleep better for years to come.
Not sleeping well? Contact us at the Sleep Centers of Middle Tennessee today to schedule a consultation. We can help you get back to the restful, restorative sleep you deserve.
- Ingeno, Lauren. “Losing Tongue Fat Improves Sleep Apnea.” Penn Medicine, 10 Jan. 2020, www.pennmedicine.org/news/news-releases/2020/january/losing-tongue-fat-improves-sleep-apnea.
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- “Want to Avoid Sleep Apnea? Get off the Sofa | Health News | Us News.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2021-07-22/want-to-avoid-sleep-apnea-get-off-the-sofa. Camacho M, Certal V, Abdullatif J, et al. Myofunctional therapy to treat obstructive sleep apnea: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep. 2015;38(5):669–675. Published 2015 May 1. doi:10.5665/sleep.4652