Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder characterized by episodes of airway obstruction during sleep which cause one to temporarily stop breathing. As a result, people with OSA may briefly awaken hundreds of times throughout the night. The disorder affects about 6% of the population, but many people with OSA remain undiagnosed. Several factors including aging and obesity may contribute to the development of OSA and the most common characteristic of the disorder is snoring. Some patients with OSA opt for treatments such as dental appliances, surgery, or lifestyle changes like sleeping in different positions. The most common treatment, prescribed to 60-70% of patients with OSA, is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP).
Specifically, CPAP involves wearing a breathing mask which is connected to an air pump by a tube, sending pressurized air through the patients nose. The airflow keeps the upper airway open and prevents apneas from occurring. While effective at treating OSA, CPAP masks are far from perfect and it is estimated that up to half of all patients prescribed CPAP do not comply regularly. Common complaints generally include that the masks are uncomfortable, bulky, claustrophobic, and resemble scuba gear. The masks are generally covered by insurance, but can cost up to $2200 (CAD).
The number of patients not complying with CPAP treatment raises several concerns. The risks of untreated OSA are extensive and include: heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and liver problems, as well as the risks involved with daytime sleepiness. To the contrary, good compliance to CPAP significantly reduces all of these risks to a level comparable to those without OSA.
To help achieve better compliance rates, CPAP manufacturers are now exploring solutions to some of the common complaints and new CPAP designs are currently in-the-making. They are aiming to produce a more comfortable and quieter mask with more stable straps, smaller breathing marks, and the use of softer materials.
As more people continue to develop OSA, the $2.3 billion dollar CPAP market is expected to grow 12% in 2010. An improved CPAP design may help to relieve the health and economic burden posed by sleep apnea.