Sleep apnea is a condition where breathing stops and starts during sleep. The main treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask. However, there are maskless options that people may use.

Maskless treatments aim to reduce the occurrence of sleep apnea. These treatments include:

  • lifestyle changes and strategies
  • position therapy
  • oral appliances
  • surgery

Maskless treatments do not aim to cure sleep apnea, and not all of these options are viable for everyone.

However, some people are unable to tolerate masked, or CPAP, treatment. Others may prefer to seek alternative methods. Almost 50% of people using CPAP do not continue using the mask after the first month.

In these cases, it is better for a person to use maskless treatment than to go without treatment.

This article discusses four maskless sleep apnea treatment options.

Learn more about the top CPAP machines for side sleepers here.

Some lifestyle changes and strategies may decrease the severity of sleep apnea symptoms. These include:

A person can speak with a healthcare professional about which lifestyle strategies may work for them. People should not start or stop taking any medication without a doctor’s advice.

Weight loss is a key lifestyle strategy for people with sleep apnea and overweight or obesity. There is a significant link between obesity and sleep apnea. Obesity is a contributing factor to a person’s airway narrowing, which increases the risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea.

However, weight loss may not be suitable or effective for everyone. A person can speak with a doctor for guidance on how to lose weight safely and sustainably.

Alcohol may increase the frequency and duration of sleep apnea episodes, particularly during the first hour of sleep. This is when alcohol levels in the blood are highest.

Consuming alcohol reduces respiratory activity in the genioglossus muscles, which are responsible for controlling the tongue. Any alcohol in the blood will have an effect, but the risk is more significant with chronic heavy alcohol use.

Position therapy is a second-line sleep apnea treatment. It involves changing a person’s sleeping position, often to a side-sleeping position, to avoid lying on their back.

Methods in position therapy may include:

  • placing an item, such as a tennis ball, on the person’s back to prevent them from turning over
  • using a pillow that positions the body
  • using an alarm that vibrates if the person turns over

This type of therapy may affect a person’s quality of sleep, but there is little evidence to suggest this. Some methods may also cause back pain. Therefore, a person should only use position therapy techniques with a doctor’s guidance.

Oral appliances may reduce airway obstruction by bringing a person’s lower jaw forward.

There are three main types of oral appliances:

MADs are the most common and effective form of oral appliance for people with sleep apnea.

Side effects of MADs tend to be mild and short lasting. They may include:

Oral appliances are generally best for people with mild to moderate sleep apnea and who have a teeth structure that can comfortably accommodate an oral appliance.

Surgery is another second-line option for certain people with sleep apnea. Types of surgery depend on which body part is obstructing a person’s breathing, such as the:

  • nasal passage
  • tongue
  • redundant tissues in the middle of the throat
  • bones of the skull or face
  • trachea

Potential side effects of surgery depend on the procedure. In some cases, surgery for sleep apnea can cause severe complications. Additionally, surgery may not cure sleep apnea.

Effective treatment for sleep apnea varies between people. None of the alternative treatments highlighted above are as effective as CPAP therapy, which is the most effective form of treatment for people with sleep apnea.

However, maskless treatments can be beneficial for people who cannot use CPAP machines.

Not all treatments are suitable for every person. A doctor can offer treatment advice that is specific to each individual with sleep apnea.

The most effective treatment for sleep apnea is a CPAP mask. However, people often find that CPAP treatment is uncomfortable. Many people do not continue CPAP treatment in the long term.

Maskless options may benefit people who cannot use CPAP machines. These options include lifestyle changes and strategies, position therapy, oral appliances, and surgery.

However, not all treatments are appropriate for everyone. A person can speak with a doctor for individual advice.