Sleep Apnea: CPAP machine helpful, but mouthpiece a welcome alternative


February 9th, 2013Sleep Appliances for sleep apnea

Sleep Apnea: CPAP machine helpful, but mouthpiece a welcome alternative

By Jim Hall – The Free Lance-Star

 

I hate my CPAP. 

I use it every night because of sleep apnea and wouldn’t think of not wearing it. Even so, I hate it.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve awakened in the middle of the night and cursed the machine, because of dry mouth or the sound of air leaking from the mask.

“Can’t somebody invent something better than this?” I ask myself.

CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. It’s a bedside machine with tube and mask that forces air down your throat while you sleep. I call it my hurricane in a box.

I need a CPAP because my tongue slips backward and blocks my airway while I sleep.

I have no idea why this happens, though I think I’ve had the problem since childhood. It was diagnosed as apnea about 15 years ago.

If I don’t use the CPAP, I snore, choke myself awake throughout the night, and, by morning, feel awful.

If I do use it, I don’t snore, don’t stop breathing and don’t feel like I’ve been poisoned when I wake.

Unfortunately, it also dries out my mouth, despite the built-in humidifier. The mask doesn’t always seal against my face, and I believe the machine is at least partly responsible for the fact that I don’t sleep through the night.

Given this history, I was excited to hear Dr. Maha Alattar, a local sleep specialist, talk about an effective alternative to CPAP.

I visited Alattar in her office recently while working on today’s story about oral appliances.

Ten years of data have shown the oral appliance to be as effective as CPAP for the treatment of mild to moderate apnea, Alattar said. She’s now got two good options in her treatment toolbox, she said.

When I was first diagnosed with apnea, CPAP was the only real treatment option. Surgery was a possibility, but my doctor said he did not recommend it.

Obviously things have changed. To me, Alattar’s words offered the stunning possibility of a life without CPAP.

“Would I be a candidate for the appliance?” I asked her.

“Get a sleep study and we’ll see,” she said.

So I did. I spent the night in Mary Washington Hospital’s sleep lab. The sleep study showed that my apnea was in the mild to moderate range. The oral appliance was a real possibility.

Alattar referred me to Dr. John Willhide, a Fredericksburg dentist. Willhide and his staff created molds of my upper and lower teeth and sent them to a lab in Texas. The lab will make a mouthpiece, not unlike the ones I used for sports.

After I receive the device and wear it for a while, I’ll return to Willhide’s office to have it adjusted.

And the CPAP? I hope to bury it deep in the back of the closet with that pair of uncomfortable shoes.