This month’s blog is for anyone who has been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and is currently using or considering using a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine while sleeping.
Many patients are not happy about the prospect of sleeping with an mask on. If you do opt for CPAP therapy, realize that CPAP machines have come a long way. If you’re adamant you do not want to use a CPAP mask, thankfully, you have options.
First, I want to briefly explain what obstructive sleep apnea does to a person’s nighttime breathing. When you fall asleep, your muscles relax, and the soft palate at the back of the throat can sag. When this happens, the upper airway can become obstructed, causing the soft palate and uvula to vibrate, causing snoring.
When the airway is completely obstructed, breathing stops for a period of time, until the body is jerked awake in reaction. This is obstructive sleep apnea. OSA can cause interrupted breathing hundreds of times a night, usually around 20 seconds per pause.
This paused breathing causes waking through the night, preventing deep, restorative sleep. This often leads to a host of problems, from daytime sleepiness and reduced job performance to hypertension,heart disease, mood and memory problems.
A CPAP machine helps this condition by pumping a continuous flow of air into the nasal passages, keeping the airway open, and preventing or greatly reducing snoring and paused breathing.
Many people don’t like wearing the nasal mask for CPAP therapy. Some feel claustrophobic or claim it causes dry mouth, nasal congestion or skin irritations. Realize there are different machines out there, so it’s important to choose the right machine for you—choose a small, quiet machine with a comfortable mask that fits you well. A humidifier attached to the CPAP machine can reduce throat dryness.
If CPAP therapy is not for you, there are some non-surgical treatment options. One of the latest is the Pillar Procedure, a safe, non-invasive treatment for mild to moderate OSA symptoms. During the Pillar Procedure, three tiny polyester implants are placed into the soft palate through a small delivery tool without incisions or stitches. Over the following weeks, the implants, together with the body's natural fibrotic response, stiffens the upper palate and creates structural support. This reduces the tissue vibration that causes snoring and the tissue collapse that causes obstructive sleep apnea. I do the Pillar Procedure at my Eos Sleep office, and it usually takes around 20 minutes.
Another is a more comfortable alternative to CPAP, called the Provent Device. This FDA-approved treatment involves a small nasal valve that fits into the nostrils and is secured by an adhesive bandage. The valve is powered by your own breathing and creates positive airway pressure much like CPAP, but does not require a machine or mask.
Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) is similar to CPAP therapy, but the machine has two air pressure levels, one for breathing in and one for breathing out. The air pressure for breathing out is usually set lower than the incoming air, and you may find it more comfortable to breathe out against a lower air pressure.
Whatever OSA treatment option you choose, you owe it to yourself to seek proper treatment and use your chosen therapy regularly. The benefits are great—snoring and paused breathing will be reduced or eliminated, helping you—and your partner—to sleep and feel better during the day.