The condition, not to be confused with primary snoring, is caused by relaxation of the throat and tongue muscles during sleep. This subsequently blocks the airway, causing pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during sleep. Each pause can last for a few seconds or even a few minutes and can happen many times a night, commonly followed by loud snores or gasps.
This stops the sufferer from getting a good sleep and makes them more susceptible to strokes, heart attacks and, in severe cases, premature death. In children, the condition can significantly affect behaviour and learning ability.
Sleep apnea has historically been considered unavoidable and the risks associated weren’t recognised. Even today an estimated 80% of patients with OSA remain undiagnosed, and only around 10% of people with the condition seek treatment.
Sleep therapy has taken great strides forward in recent years and a range of companies have created solutions or treatments for the condition. A standardized approach to educate, diagnose and treat sleep‐related health disorders has now been recognised as a requirement for properly managing OSA.
The most commonly used method of treating OSA is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). CPAP treatments deliver a constant, set amount of pressure to the throat to ensure that the airway stays open during sleep. In theory, this should stop the pauses in breathing caused by sleep apnea. However, following the introduction of CPAP by Colin Sullivan in 1980, the masks associated with the treatment have often been difficult to fit, disrupt sleep or cause discomfort on waking up.
As the science of sleep medicine evolves, there are now numerous companies trying to solve the problems associated with sleep apnea for long suffering patients. Here are six of the best that are helping sleep apnea patients around the world.
ResMed's AirSense 10 AutoSet for Her
CPAP treatments aren’t perfect for everyone and often don’t have a glamorous reputation. What ResMed do differently is provide advanced and tailored solutions for each individual patient.
For example, their AirSense 10 AutoSet For Her device tailors the amount of pressure needed to alleviate symptoms of OSA in women. Among other features, the device provides for subtle changes in therapy pressures to minimise sleep disturbance as and when they are needed. AirView captures nightly sleep data from more than 4 million sleep apnea and COPD patients via the cloud.
Another way in which ResMed are blazing a trail is through the connectivity of their devices. ResMed are the first manufacturer to put a cellular communication chip inside every sleep apnea device. Their CEO, Mick Farrell said that their acquisitions of two digital health businesses: Umbian and Brightree were key to them becoming a leader in connected healthcare. They’ve also used these acquisitions to release the ‘world's largest remote patient monitoring network’ – AirView.
ResMed have also collaborated with a private equity firm and US TV personality Dr Oz to form SleepScore Labs, a company designed to help consumers connect with products that will enable them to get the best night’s sleep possible.
CPAP device SleepStyle by Fisher & Paykel
Fisher & Paykel (F&P) have also brought their own CPAP device to market – SleepStyle. Their device is also built around comfort for the patient, designed to enable patients to adhere to prescribed treatments.
Features of SleepStyle include a heated breathing tube to reduce condensation as well as a sensor which detects when the patient is awake – subsequently reducing air pressure to a comfortable level. The device also comes with cellular and Bluetooth connectivity, meaning that patients and physicians have access to data when needed, which helps with planning future treatments.
F&P also have a range of masks designed for treating OSA. One of which, the Brevida, won a prestigious Red Dot award for design in 2017.
Philip's Respironics web based software and app DreamMapper
Philips have also recognised the difficulty patients have with adhering to treatments and have devised a solution to enable them to take a more active role in their treatment.
DreamMapper is a free mobile app and website solution which connects with Philips Respironics therapy devices to help provide insight into a patient’s condition, with the aim of providing more energetic days and restful nights.
The app also allows the user to set trackable goals within the solution, enabling the patient to incentivise themselves to stick to their treatment and continue using the devices.
SomnoDent the Sleep Apnea Oral Appliance created by SomnoMed
SomnoMed are a leader within Continuous Open Airway Therapy (COAT) which can be an effective treatment for patients with mild to moderate OSA.
Eliminating the need for a cumbersome mask and expensive CPAP device, their device consists of two devices that are inserted orally, fitting over the upper and lower teeth. They work through stabilising the patient’s jaw, moving it slightly forward. This then prevents the patient’s airway from collapsing whilst sleeping.
The SomnoDent devices also collect usage data which can be used by dentists and physicians responsible for treating the patient. For some, COAT therapy could provide a more comfortable and easy-to-use alternative to CPAP, if their condition permits it.
Vyaire's SomnoStar z4 Sleep System for complete diagnostic testing
Vyaire are an established player in the respiratory care market, having been around for more than 6 decades. They have a wide range of products and are constantly strengthening their respiratory portfolio, as seen from their recent acquisition of neonatal ventilation specialists Acutronic Medical Systems and ICU ventilation providers Imtmedical.
They offer a varied range of sleep therapy treatments and accessories for OSA, including nasal and full face CPAP masks and their SoClean CPAP sanitizing system. However, they mainly stand out for also marketing a diagnostic test for sleep health, the SomnoStar z4 Sleep System.
Using a baseline breath their calibrated RIP technology (cRIP) quantifies the difference in breaths to provide patients and physicians with an accurate representation of the level of hypopnea and apnea. The system also allows for the tracking and mapping of heart rates which can indicate more serious conditions.
CPAP device IntelliPAP by Drive DeVilbiss
Drive DeVilbiss are another company working to make their CPAP device the best on the market. Their IntelliPAP and SleepCube systems are designed to provide varying levels of air pressure, dependant on the individual.
They’ve also developed the SmartLink app which allows users to stay engaged with their therapy and connected devices. The app is able to capture quantitative data from the unit and directly from the patient. Users can enter data, store information over long periods and view periodic reports.
So, these six companies are all attempting to help the one in 20 people around the world who suffer from sleep apnea; and there are many more that could be discussed. It’s a great market to be involved in, which is expected to be worth $6.49B by 2023. With forecasts like that, it’s apparent that attitudes are changing.
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Firstly, let’s define what Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is. It’s a significant public health challenge and is estimated to affect 4% of men and 2% of women worldwide.
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