Nighttime Air Mask Eases Sleep Apnea

But some patients say the device is too uncomfortable and noisy

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 25, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- While a nighttime treatment called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) does reduce daytime sleepiness and other sleep apnea-associated symptoms, many patients don't like the therapy, studies show.

In people with sleep apnea, the airway in the nose and throat periodically narrows or closes off, which causes a person to stop breathing for seconds at a time. This is repeated throughout the night.

Research suggests that sleep apnea may contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease and increased risk of traffic accidents, due to daytime sleepiness.

With CPAP, a machine delivers much-needed air to patients through a nasal mask that's worn as they sleep.

The first review of 36 studies involving 1,718 people concluded that CPAP can significantly improve apnea symptoms compared to no treatment or treatment with less invasive methods, such as tongue depressors or oral spacers worn in the mouth to open up the airway.

According to researchers at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide, Australia, patients who used CPAP reported feeling less sleepy and more mentally and physically healthy than those who didn't use CPAP. Those who used CPAP also had 17 fewer apnea episodes per hour of sleep. In several of the studies, people who used CPAP had lowered blood pressure.

"The overall results demonstrate that in people with moderate to severe sleep apnea CPAP can improve measures of sleepiness, quality of life and mood and associated daytime sleepiness," the review authors concluded.

However, some patients resisted using CPAP because they found the mask uncomfortable and the CPAP machine too noisy.

A second review of 16 studies of 745 people found that spacers and other oral appliances aren't as effective as CPAP in reducing sleep apnea symptoms and should not be the first therapy choice for people with severe apnea. However, oral devices could be recommended for people with mild to moderate sleep apnea who are unwilling or unable to tolerate CPAP, the British researchers said.

The studies appear in the current issue of The Cochrane Library.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about CPAP.

SOURCE: Health Behavior news service, news release, Jan. 24, 2006
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