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Treating sleep apnea without a mask?

Published on October 21, 2016 at 14:43 / Updated on April 21, 2021 at 0:40

Approximately 3 percent of Canadian adults have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, a respiratory disorder that causes pauses in breathing during the night, often resulting in loud snoring and a reduced quality of sleep. When people with sleep apnea fall asleep, their throat muscles collapse, constricting their airways and forcing the body to fight for air.

The treatment involves certain lifestyle improvements (such as maintaining a healthy weight) and wearing a mask connected to a unit during the night. This treatment is called “continuous positive airway pressure,” or C.P.A.P. It maintains the airways open by pushing air into the nasal passages, which allows the person to breathe better. While the treatment helps improve sleep quality, many people do not get used to it, finding the mask uncomfortable and the unit cumbersome.

A new treatment option is now available in the United States, and it is both affordable and easy to use. It involves two small valves that are inserted into the nostrils. A device covers the nostrils and only provides two small holes for air to pass through. It allows air to enter easily, but offers resistance when exhaling, which causes increased pressure in the airways and dilates the muscles that would otherwise collapse. A fresh device has to be worn every night. The device only appears to be effective with individuals who have mild sleep apnea. It also doesn’t suit everybody. For example, it may not yield good results for people who breathe through their mouth, have severe allergies or often have a blocked nose at night.

Positive airway pressure remains the treatment of choice for sleep apnea, but this device could become a new option for those who are unable to adapt to it or who only have mild sleep apnea, if the product gets approved for sale in Canada.

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