Life Behind the Mask: A Closer Look at CPAP Alternatives
Do you ever experience slow agonizing gasps for air or long sluggish days that feel as though they will never end? These are just a few of the side effects that individuals with sleep apnea deal with every day. Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep. In obstructive sleep apnea, the airway collapses or is blocked during sleep. To allow the individual to breathe correctly and safely, there are multiple treatment options to choose from. Let’s assess!
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Mask
Continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP mask, is the most common device used among obstructive sleep apnea sufferers. This device allows a constant flow of air provided via a facemask to prevent the airway from constricting.
BiPAP or Bilevel Mask
BiPAP, or Bilevel positive airway pressure, is another device similar to the CPAP except it offers two pressures that the machine alternates between. BiPAP is mostly given to people with central sleep apnea or severe forms of obstructive sleep apnea because the two pressures mimic a normal breathing cycle, boosting weakened breathing patterns among patients. The inspiratory positive airway pressure is higher, and supports a breath as it is taken in, while the expiratory positive airway pressure provides lower pressure to allow the user to breathe out.
Disadvantages of CPAP & BIPAP Masks
While both the CPAP mask and BiPAP mask do serve their purpose, they do come with their disadvantages. There are many different models on the market, but the one underlying issue is comfort. We already deal with enough stress during the day, having another stressor upon trying to sleep is a problem. The bedroom is supposed to be a safe haven for relaxation. Instead, these devices are a source of discomfort and a constant reminder of one’s disorder.
A less obtrusive device is called Provent. It is a patch with two small plugs, one for each nostril, that create air pressure to keep the airways open at night. It creates a resistance as the user exhales dilating the muscles so that they don’t collapse in the middle of the night. One of the main drawbacks is that it doesn’t work for everyone, particularly those with nasal allergies or mouth breathers. It is not covered by Medicare, making quite expensive for someone using it nightly.
Oral appliances can also be used to keep the airway open preventing sleep apnea episodes from occurring. A sleep apnea mouthpiece is used to push the jaw forward to keep the airway open and/or prevent the tongue from blocking the airway. These devices can be effective but they only qualify for people with mild sleep apnea who aren’t obese. Users will also be required to make multiple return visits to the doctor for appliance repositioning and resizing.
Unfortunately, these options are major life adjustments and only provide temporary treatment. They do not provide a cure for sleep apnea. This is where surgery comes into play. For sleep apnea occurring among children, the simple choice is to remove their tonsils, the predominant blocking agent in their fast growing bodies. For adults there are a range of options including tissue removal, jaw repositioning, implants, tracheostomy (creating a new airway passage), etc. All of which are invasive procedures that require long recovery times.
Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally invasive procedure that can be done in a physician’s office over the course of five to eight treatments. Patients can drive themselves home, or back to work, right after the procedure. Through the use of a non-invasive device, a small amount of energy is targeted at the base of the tongue for two to four minutes. As the area heals, the surrounding tissue tightens and reduces, preventing the tongue from blocking the airway while sleeping.
A sleep study is required for all patients looking to evaluate radiofrequency ablation as a sleep apnea treatment option. If you have a sleep study and are looking to learn more about the Sleep Apnea Treatment Centers of America radiofrequency tongue ablation treatment option, please contact one of our Patient Coordinators today.