Sleep Apnea: Care Instructions

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Sleep apnea means that you frequently stop breathing for 10 seconds or longer during sleep. It can be mild to severe, based on the number of times an hour that you stop breathing.

Blocked or narrowed airways in your nose, mouth, or throat can cause sleep apnea. Your airway can become blocked when your throat muscles and tongue relax during sleep.

You can help treat sleep apnea at home by making lifestyle changes. You also can use a CPAP breathing machine that keeps tissues in the throat from blocking your airway. Or your doctor may suggest that you use a breathing device while you sleep. It helps keep your airway open. This could be a device that you put in your mouth. In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove enlarged tissues in the throat.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Lose weight, if needed.
  • Sleep on your side. It may help mild apnea.
  • Avoid alcohol and medicines such as sleeping pills, opioids, or sedatives before bed.
  • Don't smoke. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor.
  • Prop up the head of your bed.
  • Treat breathing problems, such as a stuffy nose, that are caused by a cold or allergies.
  • Try a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) breathing machine if your doctor recommends it.
  • If CPAP doesn't work for you, ask your doctor if you can try other masks, settings, or breathing machines.
  • Try oral breathing devices or other nasal devices.
  • Talk to your doctor if your nose feels dry or bleeds, or if it gets runny or stuffy when you use a breathing machine.
  • Tell your doctor if you're sleepy during the day and it affects your daily life. Don't drive or operate machinery when you're drowsy.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You still have sleep apnea even though you have made lifestyle changes.
  • You are thinking of trying a device such as CPAP.
  • You are having problems using a CPAP or similar machine.
  • You are still sleepy during the day, and it affects your daily life.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.