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
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
apnea affects more than 12 million Americans and is especially common among
overweight and obese people. Left untreated, sleep apnea can increase the risk
of high blood
attack, stroke, and diabetes.
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
The participants wore the nasal cannulas during sleep and researchers
monitored the number of sleep-disordered breathing events and sleep
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
Do you suffer from sleep apnea? Get answers from WebMD’s sleep expert,
Michael Breus, PhD, ABSM, on the Sleep Disorders message board.