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There are a variety of non-surgical treatment options available for obstructive sleep apnea.

Lifestyle Adjustments

In many cases, lifestyle adjustments may be the first step to treating obstructive sleep apnea. 

Try these steps first:

  • Weight Loss: Weight management could be the first step to help reduce sleep apnea. Excessive weight around your throat constricts air as you sleep. Sleep apnea may go away if you return to a healthy weight. 
  • Quit Smoking: Smoking can make obstructive sleep apnea worse.
  • Avoid Alcohol: Alcohol can relax the muscles in the back of your throat which can interfere with breathing.
  • Exercise: Regular exercise can help ease the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea even without weight loss. 
  • Nasal Spray: Talk to your doctor about using any nasal decongestants or antihistamines because these medications are generally recommended only for short-term use.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Therapy 

CPAP therapy is a highly effective, firstline treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. CPAP consists of a machine, flexible tubing and mask that can be worn at night. The machine is small, lightweight and quiet. CPAP therapy keeps a patient’s airway open while sleeping by providing a constant stream of air through the mask to eliminate breathing pauses caused by sleep apnea. The goal is to enable patients to sleep through the night without waking from lack of oxygen. CPAP therapy will help patients feel more alert and well rested during the day.


cpap machine A CPAP mask may cover just the nose, or both the nose and mouth. Using the device is a lifestyle change that may take some getting used to. Typically, the more it is used the better overall results will be. A Penn sleep medicine physician will determine the amount of air pressure used for each patient’s individual needs.

The Penn Sleep Center offers CPAP technology that allows the doctors to track information on patients’ sleeping patterns while they sleep. This technology lets the patient and sleep center track treatment effectiveness and identify adjustments in treatment that may be needed. 

We have a program to call patients and follow-up on CPAP use and tracking data. Patients seem happily surprised when we call and ask if they have questions or problems. Additionally, we have on-site daily CPAP clinics for new and experienced CPAP patients to talk with staff about their progress and to see new masks and equipment. Patients bring in their masks and other equipment for retraining, refitting of masks or equipment adjustments. A few minor changes can make a world of difference in making CPAP comfortable and easier to use.

Positional Therapy

For some patients whose apnea is present primarily when sleeping on their back, positional therapy may help. Positional therapy involves the use of foam or plastic devices that keep the patient off their back during sleep.

Cervical Pillow

The epiglottis is a small piece of tissue at the base of the tongue that covers the windpipe, keeping food from going into the windpipe during swallowing. A floppy epiglottis can block the airway, making breathing more difficult.

A common treatment for epiglottic obstruction is the use of a cervical pillow. The cervical pillow extends the neck and opens the airway while a person sleeps.

Oral Appliance Therapy

An oral appliance may be used to treat those with less severe sleep apnea. Oral appliance therapy involves wearing a removable oral appliance (like a mouth guard) during sleep. The appliance prevents your airway from collapsing by holding the tongue or supporting the jaw in a forward position. The appliance must be custom fitted. A Penn maxillofacial specialist will fit patients with their oral appliance.

Types of oral appliances include:

  • Mandibular repositioning devices – These devices reposition the lower jaw forward and down slightly to keep the airway open while sleeping. Mandibular repositioning devices are the most widely used oral appliances.
  • Tongue retaining devices – These oral appliances hold the tongue in place to keep the airway open.

CPAP Alternatives Clinic

If you have tried using a CPAP machine but haven’t found relief for your obstructive sleep apnea, you may benefit from Penn’s CPAP Alternatives Clinic. The clinic will identify the cause of your sleep apnea in order to provide the optimal treatment for you.

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