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How to treat sleep apnea

About a third of the adult population don’t get the minimum recommended amount of sleep (that’s at least 7 hours a night), and one of the major causes of sleep deprivation is sleep apnea- a sleeping disorder that causes your breathing to periodically stop while you’re sleeping. Sleep apnea can present itself if your throat or nasal passage is irritated by dry air or environmental allergens. Excessive weight gain can increase one’s likelihood to develop sleep apnea as well, due to your airways being blocked by fat deposits in your neck.

Sleep apnea is affecting more and more people in Hong Kong; about 4% of males and 2% of females in the local population have it, and not only does this disease affect the quality of your sleep, but it can also lead to major health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Thankfully, there are treatment options available for sleep apnea.

Below we’ve outlined general information about sleep apnea and the different treatment options you can explore.

What are the types of sleep apnea

There are two main types of sleep apnea: obstructive and central. Obstructive sleep apnea is the more common out of the two and occurs when the soft tissue in your upper airways collapses and gets blocked while sleeping. Central sleep apnea is not related to clogged airways and occurs when the brain fails to signal to the muscles to breathe. Generally, treatment for sleep apnea will be determined based on examining your symptoms and severity.

What are the at-home treatments for sleep apnea?

If you have mild sleep apnea, you can alleviate the symptoms with simple at-home treatment options such as lifestyle changes. Changing your sleeping position, such as lying on your side, can help clear obstructed airways. Doing yoga and exercise to maintain a healthy weight can increase blood in the oxygen and reduce symptoms. Additionally, eliminating alcohol and smoking can reduce the chance of blocked airways by snoring and inflammation. Using a humidifier can help to soothe dry throat and help treat sleep apnea symptoms by alleviating inflammation. Moreover, using a CPAP machine or medication such as drugs that prevent nasal sensitivity and nasal congestion is also an effective treatment method to help improve sleep apnea symptoms.

How do CPAP machines work?

Many patients with moderate to severe sleep apnea use a CPAP (Continuous Airway Pressure) machine during sleep. This non-invasive ventilator works by having the patient wear a mask connected to the machine before going to bed, allowing the sleep ventilator to continuously send air into the patient’s respiratory tract. Keeping the airways open helps to prevent the patient from suffocating and waking up again throughout the night, so that the quality of sleep can return to normal and prevent the condition from worsening or other more serious diseases related to sleep apnea from developing. If used regularly every night, a sleep ventilator is an effective treatment method.

CPAP machine side effects

Since sleep apnea patients need to wear a mask over their mouth or nose connected to the CPAP machine when they sleep, it can feel awkward and uncomfortable for some people.

What are the sleep apnea surgical treatment options?

The treatment options for sleep apnea vary according to the severity of the condition. Doctors will recommend that patients with milder symptoms use a CPAP machine and/or medication to improve symptoms. For patients with moderate to severe breathing disorders, doctors will recommend surgery as a treatment for your sleep apnea.

7 common sleep apnea surgeries in Hong Kong

Different kinds of surgical operations are performed for different parts of the body. Some operations require admission to the hospital for general anesthesia, while others only need to be completed in the clinic.

  • Rhinoplasty
  • Inferior turbinate bone reduction
  • Radiofrequency palate reduction
  • Tonsillectomy
  • Adenoidectomy
  • Bimaxillary advancement surgery
  • Tracheostomy

Are surgical options more effective than non-surgical ones for treating sleep apnea?

The compatibility for surgical and non-surgical sleep apnea treatment options is determined based on a comprehensive evaluation of the severity of your sleep apnea, lifestyle, and medical history. Non-surgical methods such as lifestyle changes, oral medication, or the use of a CPAP machine can be beneficial for those who seek a non-surgical way to reduce symptoms. Surgical treatment options for sleep apnea, such as a tracheostomy (creating a new air passageway), is only considered if the patient cannot tolerate the use of a CPAP machine, have symptoms that can only be alleviated with surgery, or seek a longer-term option for treating sleep apnea. With that said, every surgery carries risks and complications, and our team of specialists will work with you to determine the best option for you.

Generally, sleep apnea patients who need to undergo surgery are in the severe category, but no matter what treatment option you choose, it’s best to first consult your attending physician before making a decision. For more details, please visit our examination and treatment page.


The information above contains general information about medical conditions and potential treatments. It is not medical advice. If you have any medical questions, please consult your doctor.