The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new mask-less sleep apnea device that works by zapping airways open with an electrical current. The device offers an alternative to the many who have trouble with CPAP devices. The new device works much like a pacemaker or a defibrillator and will soon be available for patients with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea.

The device, developed by Minneapolis-based Inspire Medical Systems, is implanted in the chest region of an individual. According to USA Today, it stimulates the nerve that controls key airway muscles, ensuring that they stay in place and don’t interfere with breathing. The device’s generator is connected to an electrical stimulation lead in the throat that senses breathing patterns and delivers a current to keep airways open during sleep. Patients are able to activate the system beforehand and turn it off upon waking by using a small hand-held remote.

The device is meant to serve as an alternative to the popular CPAP treatment. CPAP treatment uses special masks to gently blow air through the nose to keep airways open. Although the treatment works, USA Today reports that nearly half of all patients using CPAP have trouble using the treatment consistently. Problems range from the masks not fitting properly, leakage of air, feelings of claustrophobia, or patients tearing off the mask as they toss in their sleep. The new mask-less device will offer sleep apnea patients a good night’s sleep when CPAP treatment has failed them.

Sleep Apnea is common disorder that, according to the National Sleep Foundation, affects more than 18 million Americans. Individuals with sleep apnea experience pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while they sleep. The pauses can typically last from a few seconds to a few minutes and may happen 30 or more times an hour. These pauses wake the individual and greatly decrease their quality of sleep.

Sleep apnea is the leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness. This puts the individual at a higher chance of having a work-related or driving accident.  If left untreated, it puts individuals at a higher risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes. It can also increase the risk of heart failure, or worsen it, and cause irregular heartbeats.

A recent study has also linked sleep apnea to a higher risk of developing and/or dying form stroke and cancer. According to The Huffington Post, in a 20-year study of 397 adults with sleep apnea, 77 people died; of those deaths, 31 had stokes. There were 125 cases of cancer, 39 of which resulted in death during the study’s time frame.

 

Source: Marshall NS, Wong KKH, Cullen SRJ, Knuiman MW, Grunstein RR. Sleep Apnea and 20-Year Follow-Up for All-Cause Mortality, Stroke, and Cancer Incidence and Mortality in the Busselton Health Study Cohort. Journal of Clinical Sleep. 2014.