Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), which affects over 22 million Americans, occurs when throat muscles relax during sleep causing airway blockages to narrow or collapse thereby disrupting normal breathing patterns and interfering with sleep quality. OSA has been associated with serious health consequences including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stroke – potentially life-threatening consequences of disrupted sleeping. While CPAP machines are the standard treatment, many patients have trouble complying with the uncomfortable devices. Thankfully, several new and improved treatment options are emerging.
Advancements in Oral Appliance Therapy
Oral appliances are a popular alternative therapy for mild to moderate OSA patients who cannot tolerate CPAP. Worn like a mouth guard, these devices keep the airway open by bringing the jaw or tongue forward during sleep.
Traditionally made custom by a dentist, costs could reach $2,000 or more. Now, there are FDA-approved, digitally fabricated oral appliances available through dental sleep clinics for just a fraction of the cost. Made from a patient’s dental impressions, these provide a more accessible treatment option.
New Possibilities for Surgery
Various surgical procedures aim to create a more open, unobstructed airway. The FDA recently approved a hypoglossal nerve stimulator that works by electronically moving the tongue so it does not block breathing during sleep. An implant activated before bed helps patients with moderate to severe OSA who do not get enough relief from CPAP.
Other recent surgical innovations include palatal implants that stiffen tissue in the throat and radiofrequency ablation techniques applied to the soft palate and tongue to reduce obstruction. These new options show promise for select cases.
Lifestyle and Monitoring Improvements
While technology aids treatment, experts emphasize the importance of lifestyle changes and diligent monitoring. Losing excess weight, limiting alcohol, and quitting smoking can significantly improve OSA. Sleeping on your side rather than your back can help keep airways open.
To track their condition, patients are now utilizing sleep monitoring apps linked to wearable rings and patches. The user-friendly trackers detect sleep phases, restlessness, blood oxygen saturation, and more. Data is wirelessly synced to smartphones, helping patients observe trends and optimize therapy.
The Future of OSA Management
Though still in early testing stages, an implantable neurostimulator system shows real potential as a “pacemaker for the brain.” By stimulating a nerve that controls the tongue, the device could keep airways open all night.
A major advantage is that no external components would be required once implanted.
Moving forward, greater awareness and improved screening will help more people get diagnosed and treated early before OSA worsens. Telemedicine and home sleep apnea tests also make assessment more convenient. While there is no outright “cure,” the expanding range of management options offers new hope for conquering OSA.