After sleep apnea diagnosis, the first line of treatment is usually a machine called CPAP, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure. This machine forces air through a facial mask to keep your airway from collapsing, preventing sleep apnea episodes.
Unfortunately, despite its effectiveness as a treatment, CPAP only works if patients use it — and many don’t, due to the inconveniences of the device. The mask can be uncomfortable, the sound of the machine disruptive to sleep, and people report side effects from sore throat to irritated sinuses and even more frequent nightmares. In fact, CPAP is so uncomfortable for so many that as high as 83% of sleep apnea sufferers are non-adherent to treatment, refusing to use the device as instructed even when they know it’s saving them from potentially deadly sleep apnea-related health risks.
That’s why researchers haven’t stopped searching for alternative sleep apnea treatments. One such recent option is an implantable monitor designed to sense your sleep apnea episodes and signal your nerves to counter it. But how does this treatment stack up to other options?
Sleep Apnea “Pacemaker” Is Pricy and Invasive
This new treatment is being called a sleep apnea “pacemaker,” because much like the arrhythmia treatment that goes by that name, it is a device implanted into the body to monitor your body’s functions and then stimulate nerves in response to them.
The device is activated by a remote so that it can be enabled while you sleep, and disabled during your waking hours. While active, it tracks your breathing and, should your breathing stop, stimulates the nerve that controls the tongue and airway muscles, preventing collapse.
While the device has recently received FDA approval and seems to have high success rates, this treatment option is a serious investment for people with sleep apnea.
First of all, since the device is implanted in your body, it is an invasive treatment. Incisions are made in the neck and chest to place the monitor. Just like any surgical procedure, this comes with its own risks. And although it is advertised as an outpatient surgery, some patients are kept overnight after implantation, and it can take weeks to heal from the procedure. This means that unlike trying out CPAP or an oral appliance, you’re making a serious commitment to the treatment… before you even know if it works for you.
And of course, the device isn’t free. Since the monitor is new, insurance companies haven’t had a chance to review it yet, so the treatment can only be approved case-by-case, meaning that many people will only be able to try it if they pay out of pocket — to the tune of $20,000. And that doesn’t even include the cost of the surgery.
The sleep apnea “pacemaker” may be the right solution for some people, but it could be easier (and more affordable!) to try out some less invasive options first. If you’re struggling with CPAP, talk to an experienced sleep dentist like Dr. Kevin Berry at the TMJ Therapy and Sleep Center of Colorado about oral appliance therapy in Denver. Oral appliance therapy has been proven to be as effective as CPAP in many cases, and it’s easier and more comfortable.