When sleep apnoea (and snoring) are not severe then simple approaches can help. Losing some weight, not drinking alcohol after 6.00pm (alcohol relaxes the upper airway muscles even more), keeping the nose as clear as possible, and sleeping on one’s side or semi propped up can all help.
There are now simple dental devices worn at night, some of which are like sports type gum shields, that can greatly reduce snoring.
When snoring is very objectionable, with the patient and his partner desperate for a solution, then an operation on the back of the throat may help – but this is a last resort and should only be done when a sleep study has shown snoring alone with very little, or no, sleep apnoea.
The only really effective treatment currently used for bad sleep apnoea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Because the throat is collapsing it can be held open by slightly pressurised air. To deliver this air a mask is worn during sleep just over or under the nose (or over the mouth as well for mouth breathers) and connected to a little quiet pump beside the bed. Breathing is then able to return to normal during sleep with the air gently blowing through the nose, holding open the throat. The response is usually dramatic with greatly improved sleep and disappearance of the daytime sleepiness.
The new masks are not as cumbersome to wear as some years ago, but hardly improve one’s appearance. However, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages with the vast majority of patients deciding to use their machines every night at home after a one night trial in hospital.