When Should Sleep Apnea Be Treated?

When to treat sleep apnea

For many people, sleep apnea can simply be nothing more than a mild inconvenience, however for others it can be a life threatening condition. But how do you know if your symptoms are indeed, sleep apnea and if they require treatment?

For many people, stubbornness may play a part in not getting their sleep apnea treated and for others, seeing a doctor takes up valuable time in their busy schedules. Some people might be afraid because they think that they will be forced to use a CPAP machine. But different levels will have different treatments.

It is so important to get your sleep apnea assessed and  work out a suitable treatment plan for your needs whether your sleep disorder is mild, moderate, or severe. You might think that maybe your sleep apnea isn’t that bad or your snoring “could be nothing.” But getting checked and following through a treatment plan with your doctor .

In this article, we are going to be looking at when and how sleep apnea should be treated by taking a look at the different severities of the condition.

How Severe Is Your Sleep Apnea?

One of the things that puts many people off tackling their sleep apnea is not wanting to make use of a CPAP machine. But the modern versions of these machines are super effective and easy to use, so this should not put you off.

Assessing the severity of your sleep apnea will give your doctor a good idea of how to treat it. As we mentioned for some people, mild sleep apnea does not cause too much disruption to their lives, whereas those with severe sleep apnea may experience many more problems.

Types Of Sleep Apnea

There are three different types of sleep apnea that are most commonly diagnosed in patients. Let’s look at each of these in a little detail before moving on to when they should be treated.

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) – this is a form of the condition where the airways are obstructed or collapse during sleep, meaning that breathing becomes more difficult.
  • Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) – this form of the condition is related to the brains ability to activate the muscles required for breathing during sleep. In patients with this type of sleep apnea, the brain does not activate the muscles and therefore breathing ceases.
  • Mixed Sleep Apnea – as you may guess, this is a type of sleep apnea which is a combination of the two previously mentioned types.

How To Assess Sleep Apnea

When you see your doctor for the first time with your concerns about possible sleep apnea, he or she will want to know your symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms associated with sleep apnea are:

  • The breath stopping and starting through the night
  • Snoring, snorting or choking noises whilst asleep.
  • Waking many times in the night.
  • A feeling of intense tiredness.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Mood swings as a result of the fatigue.
  • Headaches upon waking in the morning.

If you are diagnosed as having sleep apnea, you will also be told how severe it is – mild, medium or severe. Depending on the severity of the condition will depend on the treatment – if any.

For me, I took a sleep test and was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea with a 46 AHI. This meant I stopped breathing 46 times an hour, which is pretty crazy when you think about it. If you have an AHI below 5, most of the time doctors will say it is “normal” and not worth treating. Though this can vary on some cases.

Treating Sleep Apnea

For those with very mild cases of sleep apnea, simple lifestyle changes can often be enough. This is especially true for those who are suffering with the condition as a result of things like being overweight, smoking or heavy drinking. These lifestyle aspects can greatly increase the risk of developing sleep apnea and removing them or reducing them can often be enough to reverse the condition. No medical intervention will be needed.

According to one piece of research, those with mild sleep apnea may only experience a small amount of tiredness during the day and their sleep episodes are usually so trivial that they require little to no attention. For this group of people, sleep apnea simple means an inconvenient disruption.

However, those with more severe sleep apnea may require intense use of a CPAP or BIPAP machine. Usually a CPAP is advised but for those who struggle to use this type of device, a BIPAP can be a great alternative.

Using one of these machines can bring a better night’s sleep as disruption will be eliminated, allowing the patient to sleep peacefully. On top of this and more importantly, the use of these machines will allow the patient to breathe freely whilst they sleep. For people with severe forms of the condition, this can be a life saving piece of equipment.

Rarer Forms Of Sleep Apnea Treatment

Whilst the CPAP and BIPAP machines are the most common form of treatment for sleep apnea patients, there are others.

  • A device similar in appearance to a gum shield is often used in milder cases as a way of retaining a continuously open airway. This is often enough to reduce or relieve symptoms in patients with mild sleep apnea.
  • In extremely severe cases which have been caused by a physical obstruction such as overly large tonsils, surgery can be performed to reverse the condition.

Sleep Hygiene

Patients who suffer with sleep apnea in its mildest forms, may find that good sleep hygiene can partially or completely relieve any symptoms they are experiencing.

But what is sleep hygiene?

SleepFoundation describes sleep hygiene as different habits and practises that are necessary in having a good sleep quality and alertness during the day.

Setting good habits such as having time to wind down, avoiding stimulants before bed and trying not to take too long naps during the day can all contribute to better sleep hygiene. But people with mild sleep apnea may also benefit from the following practises.

  • Exercising as a way of promoting better sleep.
  • Good exposure to natural light.
  • Creating a regular bedtime routine.
  • Creating a pleasant and comforting sleep environment – correct temperature, black out curtains, earplugs etc.

Signs That Sleep Apnea Requires Treatment

Now that we have a good understanding of mild sleep apnea and its lack of a need for treatment, it is important to also understand what to look out for in more severe forms of the condition.

If you are experiencing extreme symptoms then this may signal that your sleep apnea requires treatment. One of the giveaway signs that you have severe sleep apnea is that you will experience more than 30 individual instances of sleep ‘episodes’ each night.

What Happens If I Do Not Treat My Sleep Apnea?

There are certain health conditions which can develop as a result of leaving severe sleep apnea untreated. Some of these can be quite serious so it is important to ensure that treatment is sought if you are struggling with the condition.

Some of the health problems that you may experience if sleep apnea is left untreated are:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Risk of day time accidents as a result of chronic fatigue

What About Moderate Sleep Apnea?

If you happen to find yourself somewhere in the middle, it can be confusing as to whether your sleep apnea requires treatment.

The most important thing to consider is how badly the condition is affecting your life – is it causing you extreme distress?

In most cases, those with moderate sleep apnea will first be advised to make changes to their lifestyles in much the same way that those with mild sleep apnea would be.

If these lifestyle changes do not succeed in relieving the symptoms of sleep apnea, it can then be discussed as to whether medical treatment may be required.


Not all forms of sleep apnea will require medical intervention and it can often be difficult to determine whether you require treatment for sleep apnea.

When looking at when sleep apnea needs treatment, there are a few important things to consider such as how severe is your sleep apnea and could a lifestyle change help in reversing the condition?

For those with mild to moderate sleep apnea, lifestyle changes will almost certainly put an end to their problems. However, people with a more severe form of sleep apnea will require treatment, most commonly through the use of a CPAP machine which keeps the airways open during sleep or in more rare cases, through surgical intervention.


Dan was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2017 when he was only 32 years old. He has been using a BIPAP machine for his treatment. He hopes to provide a patient's perspective on the sleep apnea experience. Dan lives in Tampa with his girlfriend and 2 dogs.

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