This Smart Device Claims to Cure Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea could be the reason you have trouble sleeping at night. The breathing disorder occurs when the throat and tongue muscles relax while you sleep, temporarily blocking your airway, according to Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic lists morning headaches, dry mouth, loud snoring, and mood changes as some of obstructive sleep apnea. "This can wake you up multiple times through the night," Vaishnavi Kundel, MD, assistant professor of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, previously told POPSUGAR. "It leaves you feeling exhausted and tired during the day."

People dealing with obstructive sleep apnea usually use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to keep their airway open overnight. A CPAP machine uses a mask that attaches to a device via an air tube. The machine pumps pressurized air down a person's throat to prevent any obstruction throughout the night. However, not everyone benefits from using the pressurized air device.

In January 2019, a new product called Inspire made its debut as a way to treat the breathing disorder without having to hook up to a large bedside machine. The device received its FDA approval in March 2019. Keep reading for everything you need to know about it.

What Is Inspire?

Inspire is an implant that is placed in the chest, over the lungs. It has an electro-charged chord that goes up the chest to under the chin, where a connector is placed on the motor nerve of the tongue (the hypoglossal nerve, according to University Hospitals). The insertion is done during a two-hour outpatient procedure, meaning the patient can go home the same day. Patients receive a remote to control Inspire — there's a green "start" button (which also works as a pause button), an on/off button, and a plus/minus button, which adjusts the intensity of the electrical signal to the nerve that connects to the tongue.

There's a free-to-download mobile app available for Apple and Android with additional information about the device, videos answering common questions, and instructional videos on how to use Inspire. You can also use the app to virtually connect with other device users.

How Does Inspire Help Sleep Apnea?

Once Inspire is implanted, the patient will meet with their otolaryngologist (ENT) to turn on the device and receive a remote to activate the device at home. Inspire sends an electric charge to a person's tongue and, with every breath, lifts the tongue away from the back of the throat so that airflow is no longer obstructed. The device synchronizes with a patient's breathing pattern to know how often to send the electrical charge to the nerve in the tongue. Just before bed, the patient will hover the remote over the pacemaker-sized device within the chest and press the green button to start. When the patient wakes up, they'll press the same button to pause the electrical pulses during the day.

The battery-operated chest implant has an expected lifespan of about 11 years and is about the size of a pacemaker, ENT Colin Huntley, MD, said during an informational event for the device.

Who Qualifies For Inspire?

Potential Inspire users with the following qualifications can get an airway exam to further determine if the device is right for them:

  • Experience moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea
  • Unable to have consistent benefits using CPAP machine
  • Doesn't have a BMI over 32*
  • Above the age of 18

*Maurits Boon, MD, said during the aforementioned informational event that while the device has been put into a patient with a BMI of 40, "patients with a significantly high BMI often won't get approved for [Inspire]." This could be because the device has yet to be thoroughly tested on subjects with a BMI over 32.

According to the brand's site, the nonsurgical airway exam consists of taking a "short-acting" sleep medication, which will allow the doctor to send a camera down the throat to examine how a candidate's airway opens and closes. At the end of the procedure, the doctor will be able to determine whether or not a person is qualified to have Inspire implanted.

Inspire For Sleep Apnea Pros and Cons

Depending on a person's individual needs, there can be a range of advantages and disadvantages to getting Inspire. Depending on your insurance, Inspire can be a more or less expensive option than using a CPAP machine. A CPAP machine can range from $250 to $2,200, while Inspire could cost anywhere from $1,400 to $3,000+. Here are some additional pros and cons to using Inspire:

Pros

  • Easy time going through TSA, as you'll be given a medical card detailing your implanted device — easier than having to remove your CPAP machine from your luggage for a TSA X-ray screening.)
  • Approved for CAT scans, ultrasounds, X-Rays, PET scans, and MRIs done on the head, neck, and limbs.
  • Patient can be physically active within one or two weeks of surgery.
  • No significant post-op pain.

Cons

  • Not meant for mild sleep apnea or snoring.
  • Patient may see the surgical scar on their chest when topless.
  • Not approved for MRIs done from shoulders to hip.
  • Depending on your insurance, the device may cost more than a CPAP machine, which usually costs between $250 to $1000.

Note: this list is based on details provided during the brand's informational event and on the question-and-answer section of the Inspire site.

How Much Does Inspire Cost?

The device is covered by a range of insurance companies, according to the Inspire site. The device makers also have a team dedicated to helping potential patients get insurance approval for Inspire and the procedure. It should cost about $1,400 for someone with Medicare insurance, according to this video. The same video says that if you have a $3,000 deductible plan and have already paid $1,000 in medical bills during the year, Inspire will be $2,000 out of pocket.

The full cost of Inspire without insurance isn't mentioned on the brand's site. A CPAP machine also drastically varies in cost depending on your insurance plan, the machine you need, and whether or not your doctor recommends a machine that your insurance will cover, according to Medicare's site.

To determine if Inspire is right for you, talk to your medical provider and insurance company.