Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is considered by most sleep experts to be a highly effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. Unfortunately, a treatment can only be effective if patients use it, and many sleep apnea sufferers have abandoned their CPAP treatment.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a fairly common sleep disorder that has been linked to severe health issues, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, impaired cognition and increased accident risk. CPAP therapy utilizes a machine, which tubes air to a mask on the individual’s face. The CPAP machine increases the air pressure in your throat to prevent your airway from collapsing when you breathe in.
According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health, a significant portion of those prescribed CPAP therapy either never initiate treatment or eventually abandon it. Worldwide studies of CPAP compliance report rates ranging anywhere between around 30% and 80%. When it comes down to it, it would appear that a great deal of patients are simply not using their CPAP machines.
Why You Might Not Be Wearing Your CPAP Mask
CPAP masks come in many varieties. Doctors will generally work with you to find a mask that suits your preferences. As accommodating as CPAP mask manufacturers attempt to be, wearing a mask is just not for everyone. Common complaints include:
- Nasal dryness or irritation
- Sore throat
- Ear pain
- Facial irritation
- Dry eyes from air leakage
Though discomfort is not experienced by everyone, the vast majority of CPAP users have been irritated by their mask, at least occasionally. What can be even more discouraging is that some users who are completely compliant might gain no benefit at all from CPAP therapy. If this is the case for you, there are plenty of CPAP alternatives.
Beyond the Mask- Exploring CPAP Alternatives
When you’ve been prescribed a CPAP mask and realize that it’s not working for you, it’s time to consider your alternatives. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea is not only an annoyance for you and your bed partner, it also poses serious risks to your health.
Luckily, there are several CPAP alternatives available for sleep apnea patients, and many of these treatments provide long-term and even permanent relief. When determining which treatment will work best, you must first pinpoint the source of your airway obstruction. In some cases, you might have obstructions in multiple areas. Potential obstruction sites include:
- Your nasal passages- This could be due to anatomical irregularities, allergies or an infection that causes congestion that hinders airflow.
- Your throat- Weak muscles or bulky throat tissue can collapse into your airway during sleep, keeping air from moving.
- Your tongue- A large tongue or limp tongue muscles can cause the tongue to obstruct the airway, restricting airflow.
- Your soft palate- An elongated soft palate can narrow your airway passage, causing restricted airflow.
- Your Uvula- An enlarged uvula is a common cause of snoring.
Once the obstruction source has been identified, your ENT specialist will be able to outline available sleep apnea treatment options. Some treatment options are non-invasive, such as oral appliances that prevent the collapse of the tongue and soft tissues in the back of the throat.
- Other treatments are considered “minimally invasive” and may take 30 minutes or less to perform in an office setting. The Pillar® Procedure is one alternative that stiffens the soft palate by inserting small implants, which provides relief from sleep apnea symptoms.
- Laser-assisted tonsil ablation is another minimally invasive procedure which reduces the size of your tonsils using lasers instead of surgery to open the airway.
- Radiofrequency ablation of the tongue is yet another minimally invasive alternative which uses radiofrequency energy to tighten and shrink the base of the tongue.
These are just a few examples of CPAP alternatives for those who don’t do well with masks. If you are ready to give one of these alternatives a try, schedule your comprehensive evaluation with the team at eos sleep. One of our board-certified otolaryngologists will partner with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that keeps your unique needs and lifestyle in mind.