For an activity humans do every night, sleeping can be a difficult routine to master. But for many people — especially chronic snorers or those with sleep apnea — getting an adequate night’s rest presents an even greater challenge. The most common fix: a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device.
But a CPAP machine doesn’t work for everyone. Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth can be intrusive and cumbersome. Thankfully, there are other options to try.
“I always say that finding treatment for sleep apnea is like quitting smoking,” says Kathleen Yaremchuk, M.D., a sleep medicine specialist and Ear, Nose and Throat doctor (ENT) at Henry Ford Health. “Some people quit cold turkey. Some need a patch, pill, hypnosis or acupuncture. But it really doesn’t make a difference what you use to quit. The important thing is that you quit. It’s the same with sleep apnea.”
Below, Yaremchuk outlines a few alternatives to CPAP, including Inspire therapy, a recently developed device that’s implanted under the skin of the neck and chest to stimulate key airway muscles.
5 Sleep Apnea Treatment Options
1. Oral Appliances. Just as there are dental professionals who specialize in orthodontics or dental implants, there are also those who can help with sleep apnea. Oral appliances such as mouthguards can help hold the tongue in place or ease the jaw forward, helping to keep the airway free and open.
2. Oral Surgery. In some cases, genetics can be the cause of sleep apnea. People born with big tonsils or extra tissue in their throat may have trouble breathing while they sleep. Other issues may involve the tongue, jaw or a soft palate. Oral surgeons can work with a patient to make permanent changes to their anatomy and help them breathe easier.
3. Weight Loss. One of the major risk factors for having sleep apnea is obesity. Studies show that shedding just 10 percent of body weight can help alleviate sleep apnea symptoms. Dropping more pounds can even cure sleep apnea in some cases.
4. Positional Therapy. If you sleep on your stomach or your side, you’re less likely to experience sleep apnea. If you sleep on your back, though, you’re more likely to experience problems. Devices that attach to your waist or back can help keep you from lying on your back and reduce the need for a CPAP machine.
5. Inspire Therapy. “For patients who’ve tried and failed to treat their sleep apnea with all kinds of things, the Inspire implant can be a game changer,” Yaremchuk says. Here’s how it works: Three incisions are made to a patient’s chest to allow three components to be implanted: a small generator, a breathing sensor lead and a stimulation lead. When a user turns the device on before bed, it works to monitor breathing patterns and stimulate key muscles to open a person’s airway. The battery-operated device runs for eight hours and was approved for use by the FDA in 2014.
To be a candidate for Inspire Therapy, a patient must meet several criteria:
- You have moderate to severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea
- You are unable to use or get consistent benefit from CPAP
- You are not significant obese (BMI can’t be greater than 32)
- You are over the age of 22
For many, an outpatient procedure to solve sleep apnea may not be an option, which is why Yaremchuk says it’s vital to discuss with your doctor about whether or not Inspire is a good fit for you.
“I always tell people that I don’t want to do a surgery that’s four hours long and doesn’t work,” Yaremchuk says. “And you don’t want to have a surgery that’s four hours long that doesn’t work.”
Bottom line: For those who suffer from sleep apnea, relief can come in many forms, helping you to lead a healthy, productive life complete with a sound sleep routine.
Kathleen Yaremchuk, M.D., is the Henry Ford Medical Group’s Chair of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, and is a member of the division of sleep medicine. She sees patients with a variety of ear, nose and throat related issues and has been involved in multiple clinical trials and procedural developments that have improved the lives of many.