Treating Sleep Apnea


Treatments for sleep apnea focus on helping to keep the airway open through therapies or surgery, including:
  • Changes in sleep position, such as sleeping on your side instead of on your back.
  • Use of specialized pillows.
  • Weight-loss regimen, if appropriate.
  • Smoking cessation.
  • Practicing good sleep hygiene, including limiting naps during the day.
  • Nasal irrigation using a saline solution.
  • Continuous positive airway pressure device.
  • Night-time dental appliance fitted by a dentist.
  • Surgery for a deviated septum, if appropriate.
  • Surgical removal of the tonsils and adenoids.
  • Surgical removal of tissue from the rear of the mouth and throat.
Use of the continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, device is becoming more common. The device has a face mask which is hooked up to a machine that provides pressurized room air to keep the airway open. The device makes it easier for the patient to breathe normally through the night.

Treatments for central sleep apnea are somewhat limited. They may include the use of supplemental oxygen, modified versions of the CPAP device, or respiratory stimulant medication as appropriate. Some patients may need a combination of therapies to best treat central apnea.

The UW Medicine Sleep Surgery Clinic at Harborview Medical Center provides a full range of treatment, from diagnosis to therapeutic procedures to surgical options, if needed. The clinic offers the latest treatments from leading specialists in the field of sleep disorders.


If untreated, sleep apnea may lead to an increased risk of hypertension, heart disease and stroke. In addition, excessive drowsiness from sleep apnea may lead to dangerous accidents, such as falling asleep while driving. It’s important for you to see a doctor if you are suffering from sleep apnea. Your doctor may also recommend that you consult with a cardiologist (heart specialist) or a neurologist (nerve specialist).


Treatment for sleep apnea increases daytime alertness, improves nighttime sleep and improves cognition during the day. It can also reduce the risk of hypertension and improve cardiac functioning.


The risks of patient-regulated therapies, such as changing sleeping positions, are minimal. Risks are associated with any surgical procedure, including the risk of infection or recurrence of the condition. CPAP has virtually no risks associated with the treatment, except for some minor discomfort from the mask. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have.


When obstructive and complex sleep apnea becomes more serious, it may be linked to heart disease or stroke. It is important to see a doctor if you have sleep apnea, so that he or she may start treatment as soon as possible.

Central apnea may be caused by a more serious underlying disease, such as heart disease. It is important that the underlying cause be treated so that your condition will improve.