Sleep Apnea Research

Can Sleep Apnea Be Cured? Answers from a Sleep Specialist


Content Partly Provided by Dr. Barbara Phillips, MD, MSPH, FCCP

Can Sleep Apnea be cured? It’s a common question raised by many patients who have been diagnosed with Sleep Apnea. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a disorder in which your airway is blocked when you sleep, which interrupts breathing, and the disorder puts you at risk for many other health conditions, such as stroke and high blood pressure.

While lifestyle modifications like weight loss are emphasized, is there really an Obstructive Sleep Apnea cure that works?

To find the answers, we talked to Dr. Phillips, a sleep specialist who practices at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. Not only is she certified in sleep medicine, but she’s a former chair of the National Sleep Foundation and the Sleep Institute and has received a special Sleep Academic Award from the National Institutes of Health.

Her research focuses on nonpharmacological treatment of Sleep Apnea, genetic risk factors for Sleep Apnea, the effects on the disorder on outcomes and performance, as well as sleep in aging. Here’s a closer look at some of your big questions about Sleep Apnea cures and Dr. Phillips’ helpful answers.

Can Sleep Apnea Be Cured?

According to sleep specialists, not typically. However, in a few cases, particularly with mild Sleep Apnea, it may be curable. “The most common way I’ve seen it cured is with weight loss and I have also seen a few, very few, cases cured with surgery,” Dr. Phillips told us. In most cases, this disorder is a chronic condition, it doesn’t go away, and it does require treatment.

How Effective is Surgery for Sleep Apnea and is That a Cure?

According to Dr. Phillips, a couple different types of surgery may be used to treat this disorder, including:

  • Mandibular Advancement Surgery – This procedure involves breaking the lower jawbone, moving it forward, and then fixing it in place, usually with titanium plates and screws. “It’s a big procedure and can only work in select patients– people whose lower jaw is small or set back,” noted Dr. Phillips.
  • Soft Tissue Surgery – Several soft tissue surgeries, such as a uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, which removes and or remodels tissue within the throat. Unfortunately, while soft tissue surgery may prove helpful in children and teens, Dr. Phillips doesn’t recommend it because it’s not very effective in adults.

Also, keep in mind, The Sleep Community for Sleep-Care Professionals notes that for those who do benefit from surgery, these benefits may not be permanent. In fact, Sleep Apnea could reoccur at a later time.

Can Weight Loss Cure Sleep Apnea?

The National Sleep Foundation recognizes that there’s a relationship between obesity and Obstructive Sleep Apnea. It’s very common for individuals who are overweight to have extra tissue in the back of the throat, which may fall down and block airways when they’re sleeping.

According to Harvard Medical School, losing weight can yield results. Simply losing 10% of your body weight can have a significant effect on Sleep Apnea symptoms. Losing a lot of weight could even eliminate the condition in some cases. Keep in mind, while weight loss offers many health benefits, it may not make a difference in Sleep Apnea symptoms for patients who have narrow airways or nasal passages.

Can Quitting Smoking Cure Sleep Apnea?

While it isn’t a cure, it can definitely help. Dr. Phillips commented, “Smoking makes the airway narrower because of the swelling of tissues and mucus. Stopping can help because smoking makes blood oxygen level drops worse due to lung damage. Stopping smoking stops this lung damage.”

What is the Best Course of Treatment for Sleep Apnea?

Although natural cures for Sleep Apnea don’t generally work, effective treatments for the disorder do exist. The most commonly prescribed treatment for Sleep Apnea is CPAP therapy. This therapy involves using a mask that fits over your mouth and nose, which blows air into your airways so they stay open at night. While wearing a CPAP mask can take some getting used to, changes in technology have made CPAP much more comfortable for users today.

Dr. Phillips also noted that “Oral appliances have a fair amount of literature to support improvement in blood pressure. They don’t improve anything as well as CPAP does, but they do improve things.” These appliances work by preventing the tissues in the back of your throat and your tongue from collapsing over your airways when you’re asleep.

Can Sleep Apnea be cured? The answer is generally no, but effective treatments like CPAP therapy are available to help you reduce the symptoms of Sleep Apnea and lower your risk for other health problems. To learn more about CPAP and Sleep Apnea, and to enjoy great savings on equipment, subscribe to our newsletter today.

More About Dr. Phillips

Dr.Barbara Phillips just retired as Professor of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, where she spent her entire professional career. She established and directed the University of Kentucky Sleep Center. Dr. Phillips is a Past President of the American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST). She serves on the Board of Trustees of the CHEST Foundation, and as a Consultant to the National Board of Respiratory Care.

She is a past-chairman of the National Sleep Foundation and the American Board of Sleep Medicine. She has served on the boards of the American Lung Association, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the Medical Advisory Board of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and the Advisory Board to the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research. She has received a Sleep Academic Award from the National Institutes of Health and an Excellence in Education Award from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

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David Repasky has been using CPAP treatment since 2017 and has first-hand experience with what it’s like to live with Sleep Apnea. He brings the patient’s perspective to the CPAP.com blog and has received formal training in CPAP machines, masks, and equipment.

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