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Is the New, Maskless Sleep Apnea Treatment Right for You?

sleep apnea

For years, the most common treatment for millions of people with sleep apnea involved wearing a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask. That is, until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a new, maskless treatment option -- the Inspire upper airway stimulation device.

“Because there’s no one-size fits all treatment for sleep apnea, it can be very exciting when something new comes along,” said Stasia Wieber, MD, a pulmonologist at Northeast Medical Group’s Fairfield location. “Inspire is another tool we can use in the right situation.”

The most common form of sleep apnea is caused when throat muscles relax, making it hard for air to get to the lungs. This causes people to stop and start breathing throughout the night. A CPAP device is effective because it keeps airways open by maintaining air pressure that is slightly greater than the air in the room. Despite its effectiveness, many patients stop using a CPAP because the masks can be uncomfortable.

Inspire is different because it keeps airways open from inside the body. A small, electrical device, like a pacemaker, is implanted in the patient’s chest. The device is wirelessly connected to a remote that, when activated, stimulates the airway muscles so they remain open during sleep. Dr. Weiber explained that Inspire is not appropriate for all sleep apnea sufferers.

“It’s very invasive,” she said. “And at some point, the device’s battery will need to be replaced, which will require another procedure. Inspire is also only recommended for patients with a BMI [body mass index] below 32. With all of that said, Inspire would certainly be considered for patients who cannot tolerate a CPAP, or have trouble with other treatments like oral appliances or weight loss.”

Dr. Wieber points out that therapies like Inspire and CPAP machines are not alternatives to recommended lifestyle changes like losing weight or quitting smoking. Because sleep apnea causes sudden drops in blood oxygen levels it can lead to high blood pressure or heart problems like stroke or abnormal heartbeats. Having sleep apnea also increases your risk for Type 2 diabetes. Following your doctor’s orders, in addition to using a device like CPAP or Inspire, is the best way to avoid these potential issues.

Learn more about pulmonary and sleep medicine, or find a specialist.