How the Inspire device works to bring life-changing sleep

About 30 million people in the United States have sleep apnea, but only 6 million are diagnosed with the condition

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Sleep apnea – ceasing or struggling to breathe while asleep – is a serious condition that can lead to heart disease and even lung damage. CPAP machines are routinely prescribed to keep continuous air flow going, but they are bulky, noisy, and claustrophobic. But now, there is a tiny, implantable device placed into the chest and according to some users, it’s been a lifesaver.

Roger Schwalm is one of the six million people who every night, strap on a mask, hooked into a bulky hose, hooked into a big CPAP machine just to breathe while they’re asleep.

“It only lets me sleep really good, on most cases, maybe three, four hours a night and then it gets so painful, I have to take it off,” Schwalm said.

CPAP non-compliance is a huge problem. The causes are many – claustrophobia, noise, whistling at 3 a.m.

“It was just annoying and it was like, sometimes, I just wanted to throw it across the room,” said Schwalm's wife, Linda who also has sleep apnea.

When patients fail to use their CPAP, apnea can lead to pulmonary hypertension, decreased concentration, fatigue, and even non-alcoholic liver disease. So, some users are trying an implantable device called Inspire for alternative treatment.

“What the Inspire has done for people is it, basically, unshackles them from being stuck in bed. Basically, there’s a battery pack, or a power pack, that gets implanted between the second and third rib on the right side of the chest,” said WellSpan Health otolaryngologist and head & neck surgeon Dr. Joshua Dunklebarger.

Two attached wires – one in the chest and one in the neck –  sense and trigger the breathing response. Once implanted, the device remains for 12 years before the battery pack is replaced.

A remote controls the little device that has a huge payback, according to Linda Schwalm. “I just sleep, and, it’s just been amazing for me. The change in my life,” she said.

It’s smart to check with your insurance companies, including Medicare, some of which will pay for CPAP equipment, as well as the Inspire device. That’s a good thing, as both device costs thousands of dollars each.

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