The most common type of sleep apnea occurs when soft tissue in the back of the throat blocks the airway and results in frequent, nightly breathing interruptions. This is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Moderate to severe sleep apnea can increase one's risk of stroke, heart attack, and hardening of the arteries, called atherosclerosis. Daytime sleepiness from sleep apnea can interfere with concentration and increase one’s risk of causing traffic accidents.
Sleep apnea is most often treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. It often involves a mask that fits over your mouth and nose while you sleep. According to Dr. Ellison, about half of people who use CPAP don’t stay with it long-term -- either because it’s uncomfortable or doesn’t help their symptoms. For mild sleep apnea, non-CPAP options include lifestyle changes (weight loss and exercise) and fitted mouthpieces that adjust the lower jaw and keep the tongue from blocking the airway. For moderate to severe sleep apnea, these alternatives are rarely successful. Before the new Inspire hypoglossal nerve stimulator system (from Inspire Medical Systems), sleep apnea surgery options repositioned or reshaped tissue in the palate or throat; however, relief from these surgeries may fade over time as the tissues begin to relax or soften.
“That leaves many patients with untreated sleep apnea who could benefit from hypoglossal nerve stimulation,” Dr. Ellison said. The pacemaker-like device works by stimulating the hypoglossal nerve, which keeps the airways open and allows people with sleep apnea to get a good night’s sleep. Its effectiveness has been proven in clinical trials, which show it significantly improves sleep apnea and relieves symptoms such as snoring and daytime sleepiness.