Many patients find the idea of having to wear a mask to sleep every night to be daunting. Fortunately, the field of sleep medicine is changing quickly, in ways that are making treatment more accessible, convenient, and patient-friendly. Most excitingly, better and more comfortable treatment options are being developed that could replace CPAP entirely–even as soon as the next couple years.
Advancing Sleep Medicine with Alternatives to PAP
PAP is the current gold standard for sleep apnea treatment, but it’s not the way of the future.
Compliance and the Current State of CPAP
Right now, PAP (positive airway pressure) therapy is the most effective way to treat sleep apnea. PAP treatment is almost 100% effective (when used), and has been shown to reverse many of the damaging health effects of sleep apnea. So far, it sounds like the ideal treatment, right?
Unfortunately, noncompliance is a huge issue for PAP treatment. People who don’t use PAP machines make up a large chunk of those diagnosed with sleep apnea. Many patients find their mask to be uncomfortable or cumbersome; some don’t even start treatment, and others just stop using it as time goes on. For whatever reason, there is little question that a patient who is unable to tolerate their PAP machine is not receiving effective treatment for their sleep disorder.
Ultimately, the nature of PAP therapy and the need to use it consistently every night are an obstacle to getting patients the effective long-term care they need.
A Lifespan Prediction for PAP Treatment
PAP treatment will soon be eclipsed by other, more practical sleep apnea treatments. It is possible that in as few as 2-3 years, PAP will no longer be the sleep apnea treatment of choice.
One of the most promising developing sleep apnea treatments is Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation. Inspire involves using pacemaker technology to stimulate the throat muscles, causing them to contract and keeping the tissue from collapsing into the airway. A pulse generator is surgically implanted in the body. When the device senses that the patient is breathing in, it sends an electrical signal to the throat muscle, causing it to pull up and backwards, opening the airway.
Unlike PAP, Inspire requires no external equipment, no uncomfortable mask or air leaks, and no voluntary compliance. Patients just need to go to sleep and the device will automatically prevent apneas.
Dental devices are also becoming a more effective and viable sleep apnea treatment. They are less cumbersome than a PAP machine, and they don’t require surgery.
As these patient-friendly options are further developed and become more widespread, it is very likely that they will take over for PAP as the most effective sleep apnea treatment.
What does this mean for current sleep apnea patients?
Does this mean that it’s time to cast off your CPAP machine? Not yet.
Right now, PAP therapy is the best treatment option–and it is absolutely a better option than leaving your sleep apnea untreated. Sleep apnea is a very serious sleep disorder that seriously degrades your health, putting you at an increased risk of conditions like heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and even death. Using the machine is an important and responsible part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, in the same way that exercising, eating well, and not smoking are vital health habits.
The bottom line
Sleep apnea is dangerous, and if left untreated, it can even be deadly. Let’s worry about getting you through the next two to three years safely and healthily. Then, we can look around and see how therapy has changed. Hopefully by then, there will be even more comfortable and effective options.
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