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Is There a Cure for Sleep Apnea?

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Image of a microscope looking into if there is a cure for sleep apnea

💡 Key Takeaways

  • Is Sleep Apnea Curable?: Most cases are not permanently curable, but are treatable. Some cases may be, depending on the underlying cause of your sleep apnea.
  • Types of Sleep Apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea is usually not curable but can be in certain conditions. Central Sleep Apnea is generally incurable due to underlying complex issues.
  • Effective Treatments: Various treatments like lifestyle changes and sleep apnea exercises can reduce the severity, although they are generally not considered permanent solutions.
  • Role of Positional Therapy: This supplementary treatment can improve the effectiveness of a primary treatment like CPAP and decrease the severity of sleep apnea events.
  • Home-Based Improvements: Lifestyle modifications like not smoking and limiting alcohol intake can work in tandem with medical treatments to mitigate the severity of sleep apnea.

When many of us think of sleep apnea, we picture bulky CPAP machines, tangled hoses, claustrophobic masks, and more. Unfortunately, that visual alone is a turn-off for many. Today, a growing number of people would rather live with the risks of untreated sleep apnea than be stuck using a CPAP device for the rest of their lives.

This issue has led many people to seek a cure for sleep apnea to minimize their need for long-term CPAP therapy. The question is, can sleep apnea be cured?

Like most things in healthcare, the answer is “it depends.” This topic is complicated, and the answer depends on what the word “cure” means to you, along with what type of sleep apnea you have and why you have it.

Curing Sleep Apnea: Is It Possible?

There are rare instances in which sleep apnea can be cured. However, to explain what we mean, we first need to talk about the meaning of the word “cure.” People often confuse the words “treatment” and “cure,” but they are actually two different things:

  • Cure: Most health organizations consider you to be cured once your condition is gone for good and cannot come back. For example, you can be cured of a bacterial infection by taking antibiotics.
  • Treatment: With cancer treatments, even though you can go into remission, you can’t be cured of cancer. Once you have it, there is always a chance that it will come back.

So, is sleep apnea curable?

In most cases, sleep apnea cannot be permanently fixed. In other words, it can’t be cured. However, some causes of sleep apnea are curable.

Even if your sleep apnea can’t be cured, there are many effective treatments that can:

  • Reduce the Severity of Sleep Apnea
  • Ease Sleep Apnea Symptoms
  • Reverse It Completely

Sleep apnea isn’t considered cured just because it goes away.

Most sleep apnea treatments are not considered permanent, even if your sleep apnea has gone away.

For example, some people see their sleep apnea disappear with lifestyle changes. But over time, many of them return to their old habits and are frustrated when their sleep apnea comes back. This is because lifestyle changes only work if you continue to follow through.

When Can Obstructive Sleep Apnea Be Cured?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea occurs when a person’s airway becomes blocked by the tongue, tonsils, soft palate, or other nearby structures.

It is usually attributed to structural changes or weakened muscles in the mouth, throat, or airway. Because of this, most people with OSA cannot be cured. However, there are some instances when it is possible.

OSA may be cured if it is caused by:

  • An abnormality in the mouth, nose, throat, or airway that can be corrected.
  • An underlying disease, illness, or infection that can be cured.
  • An injury that you can fully recover from.
  • A side effect from a medication that you are currently taking.

Surgical correction is especially common in young kids. The primary cause of OSA in children is believed to be enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids. 39% of childhood adenoid and tonsil removal surgeries are due to Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which goes away for good once the surgery has been completed.

When Can Central Sleep Apnea Be Cured?

Central Sleep Apnea arises when the communication network between the blood, the brain, and/or the respiratory muscles stops working properly. This miscommunication leaves people unable to control their breathing.

CSA is often caused by pre-existing conditions or injuries, such as drug exposure, stroke, or Congestive Heart Failure. Most of these underlying triggers are incurable. However, some people develop CSA due to an underlying issue that can be permanently resolved.

CSA may be cured if it is caused by:

  • A correctable anatomical problem that affects your breathing cycle.
  • A disease, illness, or infection that can be cured.
  • An injury that can be permanently healed.
  • A side effect of medication that you are still taking.

Can Sleep Apnea Go Away Naturally?

Sleep apnea doesn’t have to be permanent just because it can’t be fully “cured”. While sleep apnea won’t resolve on its own, some people with mild cases have reported that they were able to make it go away through:

  • Lifestyle Changes
  • Sleep Apnea Exercises
  • Natural Therapies

Using Weight Loss to Make Mild Sleep Apnea Go Away

To be clear, natural solutions are not always effective enough to make even mild sleep apnea go away completely, but it is possible. Research suggests that lifestyle changes that promote weight loss will almost always reverse sleep apnea severity by some degree. However, your chances of significant improvement are better if you:

  • Are Under the Age of 60
  • Have Mild OSA

In 2009, a group of Finnish researchers published a study examining the effects of an active lifestyle combined with three months of very low-calorie dieting on mild Obstructive Sleep Apnea in overweight participants.

One year after these interventions, participants had significant improvements in the areas shown below. This same group later completed a four-year follow-up study, in which 61% of participants continued to see their sleep apnea progression slowed, exhibiting:

Practicing Sleep Apnea Exercises

The strength of the muscles in your mouth and throat plays a big role in whether or not you will develop sleep apnea. Normally, when we sleep, all of the muscles in our body relax. With OSA, those muscles become too relaxed because they are tired from being used all day.

Sleep apnea exercises focus on strengthening the soft tissue affected by OSA so those muscles build endurance and don’t simply collapse every time you go to sleep. Researchers who have studied the effects of sleep apnea exercise have found them to be quite effective.

For example, one 2015 study looked at the effect of tongue exercises on people with moderate sleep apnea. Scientists found that after performing just one hour of tongue exercise for seven days, 40% of participants went from moderate to mild sleep apnea.

Other researchers have reported similar results after asking participants to complete 30-minute exercises involving the tongue, soft palate, and pharyngeal wall for three months. The participants experienced:

  • Reduced Sleep Apnea Severity
  • Less Frequent Snoring
  • Quieter Snoring
  • Improved Daytime Sleepiness
  • Better Sleep Quality

Treating Sleep Apnea With Positional Therapy

Positional Therapy can be helpful for snoring but is usually considered a secondary treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea. It involves sleeping on your side or propped up at an incline to reduce your risk of airway obstruction by minimizing the effect of gravity on your soft tissues.

In fact, the effect of sleeping position can be so significant that it has led to the discovery of a specific type of OSA called “Positional Sleep Apnea”. This condition only arises when a person sleeps in a particular position, usually flat on their back.

Positional Therapy is often suggested in combination with CPAP therapy because it can help maximize the benefits of any sleep apnea treatment plan. However, when used alone, it still significantly improves sleep apnea when followed correctly.

Results of a 2015 study found that PT:

  • Decreased the Number of Sleep Apnea Events
  • Improved the Severity of Remaining Sleep Apnea Events
  • Reduced Daytime Sleepiness

Tips for Improving Sleep Apnea at Home

The key to getting rid of sleep apnea is to target personal risk factors, strengthen your muscles, and improve breathing. These approaches are often recommended even with standard sleep apnea treatment because they work well together to reduce severity.

  • Don’t Smoke
  • Limit Alcohol Intake
  • Reduce or Change Medications Linked to Sleep Apnea
  • Follow a Plant Heavy Diet With Lean Proteins (Mediterranean Diet)
  • Exercise Regularly
  • Start a Yoga Routine
  • Use a Humidifier
  • Practice Breathing Exercises to Promote Nose Breathing
  • Sleep on Your Side or Inclined
  • Treat Nasal Congestion

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are the Alternatives to CPAP Therapy?

Alternatives to CPAP therapy include surgery, Oral Appliance Therapy, Lifestyle Changes, Positional Therapy, and sleep apnea exercises.

Is Sleep Apnea Permanent?

Some cases of mild sleep apnea may resolve with weight loss, lifestyle changes, positional therapy, and sleep apnea exercises. However, most of the time, sleep apnea will be permanent.

Can Severe Sleep Apnea Be Cured?

Unless it is caused by an underlying issue that can be cured, severe sleep apnea cannot be cured. You can usually resolve the breathing interruptions and side effects of sleep apnea through a combination of CPAP therapy, lifestyle changes, weight loss, and Positional Therapy.

Final Thoughts

If you’re wondering if sleep apnea can be cured, the answer is complicated. In some cases, surgery or treatment of the underlying cause may cure your sleep apnea permanently. However, this is unlikely for the majority of people.

A combination of lifestyle changes, weight loss, strengthening exercises, and Positional Therapy may make mild sleep apnea go away for a time. Moderate to severe sleep apnea often improves with these approaches, but the condition cannot be resolved without a primary treatment such as CPAP therapy or Oral Appliance Therapy.

  • Kenzie Dubs

    Kenzie is a science-based content writer who has a passion for educating the public on the healing powers of sleep! She graduated with a bachelor's degree in biology in 2016 and went on to earn a second degree in nuclear medicine shortly after. She has several years of professional experience in healthcare, including emergency medicine, radiology, and general care. Along with her unique background, Kenzie also has personal experience with sleep apnea, including loved ones who have recently begun their own CPAP journeys. With each article, she aims to provide our readers with honest, accurate information that they can use to improve their health and wellness!

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