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Wellness & CareManaging a Condition › Understanding Sleep Apnea
March 2, 2023

Understanding Sleep Apnea

Understanding Sleep Apnea

Do you snore heavily? Have you ever been told by a family member or bed partner that you stop breathing in the middle of the night? If you answered yes, you may suffer from obstructive sleep apnea — a disorder characterized by heavy snoring and breathing disruptions that cause you to wake up gasping for air.

One in every 15 Americans suffers from sleep apnea and the condition can also affect children. Sleep apnea is a serious problem that occurs when the muscles in the throat relax and block the airway. When breathing is interrupted the oxygen levels in the blood fall. Over time, these low levels of oxygen can lead to life-threatening complications like heart attack, stroke, and even premature death.

Treatments for sleep apnea 

The first line of treatment for sleep apnea is CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). The CPAP machine is connected to a mask that helps keep the airway stay open throughout the night.

But unfortunately, more than half of CPAP patients do not have success using the machine. Some of them turn to surgical solutions such as Inspire® technology, which is like a pacemaker for the tongue. Inspire is a hands-free, remote-operated device that controls sleep apnea by keeping the tongue away from the airway, so breathing is unencumbered throughout the night.

“Evaluating a patient to see if they are a candidate for Inspire is very easy,” explains Bruno DiCosmo, MD, Director of the Sleep Lab at Westmed Medical Group. “It requires a visit with a sleep specialist, physical exam, measurement of height and weight, and a history of having tried CPAP or an oral device to treat the sleep apnea in the past.”

During the procedure, two small incisions are made, under the jaw and below the clavicle, to implant the sensor. This sensor monitors your breathing at night and whenever you take a breath in it sends a little signal to your tongue telling it to move forward and get out of the way, so it doesn’t cause airway obstruction.

“Once the Inspire device is implanted and the patient has healed from surgery, the device is turned on for the first time during an office visit with the sleep specialist. At that time the proper settings are programmed, and the patient is instructed on how to use the device for sleep,” says Dr. DiCosmo.

After surgery, patients visit the office yearly to make sure everything is working properly. At that time, any adjustments that are needed can be made. The device has a battery that gets replaced after about 10 years.

Research has shown that the Inspire procedure and technology are a complete cure for about 80% of patients. For another 15% of people who have the surgery, there is a reduction in sleep apnea. The failure rate is around 5%.

Surgical and long-term complications occur in less than 1% of patients. Side effects are generally minimal, explains Dr. DiCosmo, and may include tongue soreness, which can often be overcome with minor programming adjustments to the remote.

Sleep is the foundation of good health. If you have symptoms of sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, make an appointment with a sleep medicine specialist at Westmed Medical Group. Our specialists will evaluate you and develop a treatment plan to help you rest comfortably throughout the night and feel less tired during the day.