July 16, 2007 -- An experimental treatment may offer a more comfortable alternative to cumbersome treatments for obstructive sleep apnea.
The treatment entails using a thin, flexible tube with small prongs that are inserted into the nostrils.
A new, small study shows the treatment effectively reduced the sleep disruptions and interrupted breathing associated with the common sleep disorder.
Researchers say the results suggest that using a nasal cannula to deliver warm, moist air to the nasal passageways during sleep may be a viable option for people who find other sleep apnea treatments hard to follow. A nasal cannula is more commonly used to deliver oxygen through the nose.
"Current treatment options ... are often intrusive or invasive and not well-tolerated, leaving a vast number of patients untreated," says researcher Harmut Schneider, MD, of Johns Hopkins Asthma and Allergy Center, in a news release. "Improved therapeutic strategies are required to treat sleep apneas."
The obstructive form of sleep apnea is caused by an obstruction in the upper airway that leads to interrupted breathing during sleep. Current treatment options for the sleep disorder include continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) using a breathing machine, oral appliances, and surgery.
In the study, researchers evaluated the effects of using nasal cannulas to deliver warm, moist air to the nasal passage at a high rate in 11 people with mild to moderate forms of obstructive sleep apnea compared with no treatment.
The participants wore the nasal cannulas during sleep and researchers monitored the number of sleep-disordered breathing events and sleep arousals.
The results, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, showed that the nasal cannula treatment reduced the average number of disordered-breathing events from 28 to 10 per hour. The experimental treatment also reduced the average number of sleep arousals from 18 to two per hour.
Researchers say the treatment appears to work by alleviating upper airway obstruction and improving ventilation. Although this study provides evidence that this new technique may be used to treat obstructive sleep apnea, further study in a larger and more diverse group of people is needed to confirm these results.
Do you suffer from sleep apnea? Get answers from WebMD’s sleep expert, Michael Breus, PhD, ABSM, on the Sleep Disorders message board.