If you snore at night or gasp for air, you may have sleep apnea. This dangerous condition affects millions of people and can lead to heart problems, stroke, and even death. Until now, the only treatment was a CPAP machine that many people find uncomfortable using. But a new FDA-approved treatment is available that works by stimulating the glossopharyngeal nerve. So what is a glossopharyngeal nerve, and how does it help you breathe better while sleeping?
What is a Glossopharyngeal Nerve? What Does it Stimulate?
The glossopharyngeal nerve is the ninth cranial nerve and is responsible for several functions, including:
- Sensing pain and temperature in the throat
- Stimulating the production of saliva
- Controlling the movement of the muscles used for swallowing
This nerve also plays a role in regulating blood pressure and heart rate. Stimulation of this nerve can help open up the airway and improve breathing.
CPAP Machines: The Old Standard of Care
CPAP machines have been the standard of care for sleep apnea for many years. These machines deliver air pressure through a mask that you wear during sleep.
The air pressure keeps the airway from collapsing and allows people to get enough air. While CPAP machines are effective, they can be uncomfortable, and many people find them difficult to tolerate.
Often, CPAP machines cause a myriad of side effects that individuals can’t live with, including:
- Feeling claustrophobic
- Skin irritation
- Dry mouth and nose
- Uncomfortable sleep position to keep the mask in place
- Problems with mask fitting
- Air leakage
- Rashes or marks on the face where the mask rests
These side effects are enough for many people to give up on using their CPAP machines. As a result, many people with sleep apnea go untreated.
Dangers of Untreated Sleep Apnea
Without treatment, there is evidence that sleep apnea can cause brain damage and changes in your brainstem. Health risks are why it’s crucial to find a treatment you can use every night. Skipping nights of sleep apnea treatment can set you up for major medical issues.
“A neuroimaging study in the September issue of the journal Sleep found that participants with severe, untreated sleep apnea had a significant reduction in white matter fiber integrity in multiple brain areas, which was accompanied by impairments to cognition, mood, and daytime alertness“ (1)
In addition, those suffering from sleep apnea without treatment can face an increased risk of:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
If you have sleep apnea, you may be wondering if there is a treatment that can help you without using a CPAP machine. The good news is that there is! Glossopharyngeal nerve stimulation (GNS) is a new FDA-approved treatment for sleep apnea.
Inspire: The New FDA-approved Medical Device for Sleep Apnea
Inspire is a small medical device used to stimulate the glossopharyngeal nerve while you sleep. The Inspire device sends electrical impulses to the glossopharyngeal nerve that help keep the airway open.
Inspire placement is a minimally invasive procedure that your ENT specialist can perform in an outpatient setting. When you’re ready to go to sleep, you simply turn on your Inspire remote to breathe well all through the night.
How Does Inspire Glossopharyngeal Nerve Stimulation (GNS) Work?
GNS therapy works by sending electrical impulses to the glossopharyngeal nerve. The GNS stimulates the muscles that keep the airway open.
“The glossopharyngeal nerve stimulation device consists of leads that are placed under the skin in the neck and connected to an implantable pulse generator (IPG). The IPG is usually placed under the skin below the collarbone. The device is turned on before sleep and off upon awakening, similar to a CPAP machine.”
You can use the Inspire app to track your progress and see how well the device works for you. “The app will also track your apnea events, snoring, and hypopneas (shallow breaths) and give you a nightly score. Over time, you’ll be able to see how GNS therapy is improving your sleep apnea.”
Inspire’s GNS therapy may be the best treatment if you’re looking for an alternative to CPAP. Ask your doctor if Inspire’s glossopharyngeal nerve stimulation device could work for you. This new FDA-approved treatment may help you get the restful night’s sleep you need.
We Can Help
At Enticare, our board-certified ENT sleep specialists work with you to find the best treatment for your sleep apnea, whether CPAP, Inspire GNS, or other options. We offer in-office and at-home sleep studies to diagnose your condition and help you develop a personalized treatment plan. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and find out how we can help you sleep better.
- “26% of Adults May Have Sleep Apnea.” American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 29 Jan. 2019, sleepeducation.org/news/2019/01/29/26-adults-may-have-sleep-apnea.
- “What Is Glossopharyngeal Nerve Stimulation (GNS)?” Inspire Medical Systems, Inc., inspiremedicalsystems.com/what-is-glossopharyngeal-nerve/.
- Inspire: The New FDA-approved Medical Device for Sleep Apnea (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2018, from Sleepfoundation.org website: )
- glossopharyngeal nerve: ( Mayo Clinic Staff. “Glossopharyngeal neuralgia.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 20 Dec. 2017. Web. 17 Apr. 2018.)
- What Is Glossopharyngeal Nerve Stimulation? (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2018, from Sleepfoundation.org website:
- American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “New study shows glossopharyngeal nerve stimulation improves sleep apnea.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 September 2017. .)
- What Is Glossopharyngeal Nerve Stimulation? (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2018, from Sleepfoundation.org website: )
- Inspire: The New FDA-approved Medical Device for Sleep Apnea (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2018, from Sleepfoundation.org website