If you experience loud snoring, morning headaches, insomnia, extreme daytime fatigue and the need to gasp for air throughout the night, you may have sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of the sleep disorder and occurs when the airway is blocked, thus causing periodic and repetitive pauses in breathing during sleep.
One of the most popular and common treatments for sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP), a nonsurgical treatment that delivers a mild airflow through a CPAP machine, hose and a full face or nasal mask. However, some people may feel restricted or experience discomfort when wearing a bulky mask to sleep, or may find cleaning and taking care of a machine a hassle, thus making skipping CPAP therapy tempting. One study found that up to 50% of people who use traditional CPAP stop using their devices within a year. Consequently, skipping therapy can result in significant health implications and potentially create a dangerous habit. In response to these consumer issues, micro-CPAP machines have been introduced as an easier alternative to CPAP machines and sleep apnea treatment.
Micro-CPAP machines allegedly offer the same benefits to CPAP machines such as assisting with air flow and reducing snoring, however the miniature size results in fewer features – plus, the treatment is yet to be clinically proven and tested. This brings into question – how effective is micro-CPAP?
Is micro CPAP effective?
There are numerous lingering questions regarding the one size fits all micro-CPAP technology and its viability as a new sleep apnea treatment option. Some of the claimed benefits micro-CPAP offers includes:
- Reduced noise: a micro-CPAP device is not attached to a machine and does not require a mask as demonstrated with a traditional device, thus resulting in less noise
- Decreased snoring: micro-CPAP devices such as the Airing, utilise nose buds to create pressure in your airways
- Fewer sleep disruptions:when being connected to a traditional machine, some people might feel restricted and experience difficulty moving around. A cordless micro-CPAP device mediates this issue
However, these claims are yet to be scientifically proven and require further evidence to justify that micro-CPAP is as effective as traditional methods.
Invented by Stephen A. Marsh, the Airing micro-CPAP device was the first of this innovative technology to hit the market. Its design features a hose-less, maskless and cordless device, measures 2 inches in length, 1.5 inches in width, 1 inch in height and weights as little as 0.9 ounces. The Airing CPAP design further features an internal battery that is projected to last for more than 8 hours and hopes to utilise micro-blowers, typically used for heat regulation and computer cooling, to provide sufficient filtered airflow into the airways via nasal plugs.
In general, micro-CPAP seems to be at least a few years away from being approved by the FDA (U.S.) or TGA (Aus) due to a variety of problems that hinder its effectiveness.
Let’s delve into an airing review that focuses on the idea of micro-CPAP as a whole.
The first thing to note with the Airing micro-CPAP is that it might not be able to provide sufficient battery power. When compared to CPAP machines, the Medistrom Pilot 12 CPAP Battery Backup Power Supply for example, can run for up to 12 hours on a pressure setting of 10, whilst providing backup power for both the DeVilbiss Intellipap and Respironics PR Series. However, the battery weighs 1.8 lbs; an unrealistic weight to have hanging from your nose while you are sleeping. Furthermore, even if research and development were able to find a balanced ratio between the weight and battery power, a humidity control is required.
This brings into focus a subsequent issue of the Airing – it does not provide humidity control or a water reservoir, thus potentially resulting in dry and cracked nasal or throat passages.
Additionally, the micro-CPAP device appears to fail in delivering the correct pressure required to treat sleep apnea. As the use of micro-blowers avoids the use of a blower or fan, the device utilises less energy. However, current technology is yet to validate and support this innovation at the size of a nose plug.
Moreover, Airing’s price of $3 can be questioned; that is, how can an advanced, complex piece of technology be produced and marketed at a disposable price? An innovative device such as the Airing combined with a potential high power battery, is not something that should be cheaply disposed after one night. If we look at a micro blower today with no battery, electronics or housing, the cost is equivalent to $22.
Ultimately, through advanced innovation and engineering, in a few years the Airing micro-CPAP could overcome these issues however, after five years the device is yet to see any validated progress.
This brings into discussion other effective sleep apnea alternatives that keep the small form factor.
What is the smallest CPAP machine on the market?
ResMed’s AirMini is the world’s smallest CPAP device ever manufactured and an effective alternative to micro-CPAP products.
It delivers the same benefits and features as a traditional bedside device at a fraction of the size, measuring 5.4 x 3.3 x 2.0 inches and only weighing 300 grams . The AirMini ticks all the checkboxes for portability, comfort and freedom of movement and is an effective compact, light solution for those who need to use their machines on a daily basis. The device further gives you the flexibility to continue your sleep apnea therapy regardless of your whereabouts, whether you’re on a holiday, a flight, camping or on a work trip, the AirMini takes the hassle out of travelling and can easily be packed and carried around.
Some of the AirMini’s product features include:
- Bluetooth connectivity: fast and easy synching with your smart devices
- AutoRamp: comfortably fall asleep on a gentle pressure
- AirMini app: manage your comfort settings and view your therapy progress with ease directly on your phone
- Expiratory Pressure Relief (ERP): reduces pressure during exhalation
- A StartSmart button
- HumidX system: an intuitive waterless humidification system
What is the success rate of CPAP?
Whilst Micro-CPAP is yet to be scientifically tested and proven, traditional CPAP therapy has a successful performance rate of nearly 100% for treating obstructive sleep apnea and is one of the first-line treatments when this sleep disorder is diagnosed.
Unlike micro-CPAP which is maskless, hoseless and not powered by a machine, CPAP devices work by delivering air pressure via hoses attached between a nasal or full face mask and machine. A steady flow of air keeps the airways open whilst you are sleeping, in turn improving your sleep quality and respiration.
However, when sleep apnea is left untreated, it can become a life threatening condition. In particular, skipping CPAP therapy may reduce its effectiveness and can greatly impact your sleep apnea, snoring and general and long-term health and wellbeing. Such risks associated with skipping OSA therapy include:
- Extreme fatigue
- High blood pressure
- A greater risk of sudden cardiac death
- Anxiety and depression
For further information about skipping CPAP therapy, read our comprehensive article here.
Moreover, in conjunction with OSA therapy, lifestyle changes and healthy habits can complement your OSA treatment plan. These include:
- Weight loss: losing weight may help relieve constriction around your throat
- Exercise:aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity throughout your day
- Quit smoking:smoking worsens swelling in the upper airway
- Avoid sleeping on your back:Sleep on your side instead. This sleeping position allows airways to become more stable
- Avoid certain substances: Alcohol, tranquillisers and sleeping pills can relax the muscles in your throat and causes the upper airways to collapse, thus worsening sleep apnea
Ultimately, curing OSA involves a combination of lifestyle changes and treatment – something that no device can effectively cure alone.
Does a CPAP machine ruin your teeth?
While CPAP does not in any way ruin your teeth, sleeping with an open mouth can. If you mouths falls open during the night, air can escape and result in a parched mouth or tongue. When your mouth is dry, bacteria growth is encouraged and this has the possibility to damage your gums and teeth.
OSA equipment and accessories actually provide the opportunity to avoid this problem – to avoid mouth breathing and losing therapy pressuring throughout the night, it is recommended to try a soft cervical collar and/or a chin strap.
Moreover, some people may find that the pressure of the mask moves their teeth or puts pressure on their upper lip, thus causing their teeth to hurt the next day. This may be a sign that your mask may be too tight. If you are experiencing continuous difficulties with your mask and/or machine , it is always recommended to speak to your sleep specialists to find the most comfortable solution for you.
Ultimately, whilst micro-CPAP is yet to be scientifically proven as a successful sleep apnea treatment method, traditional CPAP machines that keep the small form factor such as Resmed’s AirMini are an effective alternative and a compact, flexible solution.