This is a continuation of my love/hate series on treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea.
In my last post, I described 7 reasons why I like using CPAP for my patients with obstructive sleep apnea. In this post, I will go ever 7 reasons why I hate CPAP. As you can see from this post and past posts, I have a love/hate relationship with all the diagnosis and treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea.
1. Always the wrong pressure
Traditionally, your CPAP pressure is calibrated to cover the worse-case scenario—REM sleep on your back. We know that apneas happen most often in this situation. You’ll get the same pressure the entire night no matter which sleep stage you’re in and which position you’re sleeping in.
Automatic machines are designed for limitations of CPAP, but despite advances in APAP technology and algorithms, it’s still not able to predict when you will enter REM sleep or switch onto your back.
2. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle
One of the principles of physics is that whenever you observe an atom using light, you’re changing the position of the atom. In the same way, having a mask strapped to your face with positive pressure will by definition change the quantity and quality of your sleep. For many people, the benefits will far outweigh with side-effects, but for others, CPAP causes more arousals than it helps.
3. Often used with stuffy noses
Many people with obstructive sleep apnea have stuffy noses, and we know from studies that having nasal congestion can significantly lower CPAP effectiveness. Allergy medications or nasal saline irrigation may help some people, but even if you’re able to benefit from CPAP, it’s probably not working as well it could work due to a stuffy nose. To adjust for these issues, a full face mask can be used, which cover both your nose and mouth. In theory, this can work better, but full face masks are generally more uncomfortable.
4. CPAP doesn’t address milder forms of obstruction
When you undergo a CPAP titration, the pressure is usually calibrated to get rid of apneas and hypopnea, especially when you’re on your back and in REM sleep, when your muscles are most relaxed. However, more subtle degrees of obstruction that don’t meet the 10 second threshold criteria and not addressed. This is why many people can have CPAP adherence data showing an AHI of .1, no leaks, and using 100% of total sleep time, but they don’t feel any better.
5. Potentially makes your teeth crooked
Dentists say that about 50 grams of force is enough to move your teeth. That’s about 2 ounces. Nasal and full-face masks place constant pressure on your front teeth. There are documented reports of patients using CPAP where the upper incisors were found to be shifted back.
6. The system is broken
Studies have shown that with proper education and good follow-up, most people can do well with CPAP. However, due to a broken health care system, many patients slip through the cracks, with minimal to no education and not enough follow-up visits that are needed for troubleshooting. In the academic published literature, “adherence” rates range from 40% to 80%. In the real world, only about 20 to 30% people who start using CPAP are still using it effectively at 1 year.
7. Not a permanent solution for most people
Even if you’re able to use CPAP, life situations change. You may gain more weight. Or you may be in a new relationship. Although I see many people who are very happy using CPAP over decades, some people will want other options at a later time.
8. Flawed CPAP “Adherence” requirements
Medicare and some insurance companies will require that you use CPAP for about 50% of your total sleep time. Otherwise, your machine is taken away. If you start with an AHI of 50 and use your CPAP 50% of the time (4 hours every night), technically, you’re “adherent.” But your average AHI level during your total sleep time is still 25, since you didn’t use CPAP during the other 4 hours during the night. CPAP may be very effective in lowering your AHI to minimal levels, but it’s completely useless if you’re not using it at all.
9. Periodic cleaning and maintenance is needed
This may not matter for people who are regimented and find it important to maintain their CPAP devices on a regular basis, but many others find it cumbersome. Additionally, your body’s CPAP pressure needs will change over the course of months to years, so it’s important to check the pressure at least every 6 to 12 months.
Despite these 9 reasons why I don’t like CPAP, it’s the best that we have, so I do recommend it for most people with moderate to severe. obstructive sleep apnea.
Here are three ways to maximize the chances that your CPAP will work for you:
1. Find the right mask
Many people don’t know that you can ask for a different mask within 30 days. The combination of the right mask and headgear can make a major difference in your comfort levels and whether or not CPAP will work for you.
2. Unstuffy your stuffy nose
Having nasal congestion wil significantly lower the chances CPAP will work. Higher nasal resistance will raise up your CPAP pressures, and it’s also more likely that you’ll open your mouth, causing a mouth leak, which can cause you to wake up. Do everything to make sure that you’re breathing optimally through your nose. This can involve nasal saline, nasal dilator devices, allergy medications, or even surgery.
3. Talk to your health care professionals
Communicate with your sleep physician and equipment company often, especially in the first few weeks. They can troubleshoot only if you give feedback.
In the following posts, I will go over reasons why CPAP may not work, and why I like and dislike surgical options for obstructive sleep apnea.
What has been your experience using CPAP? Was it good or bad? How were you able to overcome challenges to be able to get to the point of sleeping better?