The CPAP has been the most frequent form of treatment for obstructive sleep apnea for many years. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, the CPAP doesn’t work for many people. But researchers may have discovered an alternative involving electrical stimulation.
Transcutaneous electrical neurostimulators (or TENS machines) are devices that deliver low levels of electrical currents directly on the skin through adhesive patches. These electrical currents serve in place of neurological stimulation to keep muscles firing. While TENS machines have been used for years to treat pain and muscle spasms, researchers have begun to test the effectiveness of TENS machines to treat obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is generally caused by obstructions in the airway due to the soft palate and other portions of the throat to obstruct air flow. Research believed that using electrical stimulation on the throat to target specific muscles might help keep the airway open during sleep. They found that patients who used TENS machines while sleeping experienced a significant reduction in their AHI (apnea-hypopnea index) decreased, which means they had fewer pauses in their breathing during sleep. The study also showed that patients who used the TENS machine had improvements in their sleepiness levels, meaning that they felt more awake and alert during the day.
This could be good news for patients who have trouble using the CPAP. The TENS unit only involves using adhesive patches applied in strategic locations on the neck, with no need for a mask. The TENS also doesn’t require a separate machine for cleaning like the CPAP.
It does have some drawbacks. The TENS machine did cause skin irritation and headaches with some patients, and like the CPAP, it also requires access to electricity, so it does carry some of the same limitations.
But overall, this new approach to treating OSA could end up being a promising development in the field of sleep medicine. It offers hope for those who struggle with traditional treatments and provides a potential option for managing OSA symptoms.
- Noninvasive Nerve Stimulator May Ease Sleep Apnea (MedPageToday)
- Domiciliary transcutaneous electrical stimulation in patients with obstructive sleep apnoea and limited adherence to continuous positive airway pressure therapy: a single-centre, open-label, randomised, controlled phase III trial (eClinicalMedicine)