Plugging the nose to treat sleep apnea

11:36 PM, Feb 14, 2011   |    comments
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By Kay Quinn, Healthbeat Reporter

St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - If you've ever tried to get a good night's sleep with a cold, you know that nasal congestion can definitely keep you up.

But a new device to treat sleep apnea actually produces a good night's sleep by giving people a stuffy nose.

It's called Provent, and it's an alternative to the CPAP machine.

"I didn't understand how it could possibly work," says sleep apnea sufferer Stephen Wheeler of the first time he heard about Provent.

So he was a little skeptical when his doctor asked him to enroll in a study to test it.

Provent consists of two small valves that are worn in the nostrils at night.  The wearer can breathe in through their nose. But the valves prevent them from breathing out through the nose.

"The device provides a resistance when you try to exhale and so it creates a pressure to keep the airway open when you start to inhale for the next breath," says Dr. James Walsh, director of the Sleep Center at St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield.

Adhesive collars hold the valves in the nose.  Provent is much less cumbersome than CPAP, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure. CPAP is the gold standard for treating sleep apnea, and users wear a mask attached to a machine at night which forces air into their throat.

But many people, including Wheeler, either can't or don't want to use it.

"They tried me on the CPAP machine," says Wheeler. "I tried that and it was an unpleasant, I would say almost horrible, experience for me. I felt like I was drowning."

It's believed about 80 percent of people can wear Provent.

But the nasal valves don't help everyone feel more rested in the morning.  Right now, it's impossible to tell who will get a good night's sleep with it.

So far, it's been successful in about 40 percent of the patients Dr. Walsh has tried it in at the St. Luke's Sleep Center.

Patients who want to try Provent may eventually undergo a sleep study. But doctors at St. Luke's first send candidates home with a couple of samples to see if they even work.

Wheeler has used Provent every night since first trying them. He says he no longer needs afternoon naps and doesn't fall asleep in meetings anymore.

"I actually have more energy and I've lost a little weight too," says Wheeler.

The valves aren't reusable, and a new pair has to be used every night.  They run Wheeler about fifty dollars a month, and his insurance doesn't cover it.

But he says it's worth every penny for getting a good night's sleep.

For more on the St. Luke's Sleep Center call 314-205-6030, or look for the web link on this page.



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