If you’ve been doing your research on sleep apnea, you know that this sleep disorder is accompanied by some potentially deadly risks, ranging from blindness to stroke to kidney disease. To avoid those risks, it’s essential to seek treatment for sleep apnea. But new research shows that simply going through the motions of sleep apnea treatment may not be enough to reduce or eliminate those risks.
Does CPAP Safeguard Heart Health?
In most cases, the standard first line of treatment for sleep apnea is the overnight use of a continuous positive air pressure machine, or CPAP. While somewhat uncomfortable and clunky, CPAP has proven effective at preventing sleep apnea episodes when used correctly.
But can CPAP treatment reduce the associated heart health risks? Researchers at UNSW Sydney in Australia say maybe not. After analyzing data from ten randomized clinical trials including more than 7,200 patients, the team determined that the treatment, while effective against daytime sleepiness, had no significant effect on blood pressure or probability of cardiovascular events. As a result, researchers recommended CPAP only as a treatment for unpleasant day-to-day symptoms, but not for overall, long-term health.
However, researchers may be jumping the gun by dismissing sleep apnea treatment wholesale based on these findings. Of those ten clinical trials, four suggested that patients who used CPAP for more than four hours a night may have reduced cardiovascular risk. The researchers did not find those numbers statistically meaningful, but this could be a mistake.
Many Patients Use CPAP Incorrectly
While CPAP is widely used, it is not widely correctly used. In fact, some estimates suggest that up to 83% of obstructive sleep apnea patients are using CPAP for less than four hours a night, despite evidence showing that upwards of six hours of nightly use is necessary to reap the rewards of the treatment.
It’s not surprising that so many people struggle with CPAP. Despite the relief of symptoms like headaches and fatigue, many patients find it difficult to sleep while wearing the mask, hearing the sound of the machine, and limited to sleeping positions that accommodate the device. Some patients experience claustrophobia while using CPAP, and some even develop pressure sores. Add in nightmares, dry mouth, and sore throat, and you may understand why so many people find CPAP difficult to stick to.
Thankfully, CPAP is not the only option on the table for sleep apnea treatment. In fact, there are a variety of oral appliances that are not only just as effective as CPAP at preventing obstructive sleep apnea events, but are also more comfortable.
While CPAP keeps the airway from collapsing by introducing continuous airflow, an oral appliance takes a simpler approach: Position the jaw in such a way that the airway is held open. Similar to an athlete’s mouth guard, oral appliances are small, portable, and easy to wear. You don’t need power to use it, and it doesn’t come with all those unpleasant side effects.