two little people, one about to cute a CPAP tube circle and the other putting a bandaid on the CPAP tubing circle

Stopping and Starting: A Never-Ending Cycle With CPAP

Using the CPAP is hard, and for me, it's always been a start-and-stop process throughout the years. When talking to my sleep specialist, she told me that in her experience, about 40 percent of people cannot tolerate CPAP. For a lot of years, I could attest to being part of that percentage that couldn't tolerate it.

My long struggle with CPAP

During the 15 years I've had sleep apnea, I cut my cornea with one of my early masks. Then the air blowing in my eyes dried my eyes out, so the initial cut kept reopening until I finally had the top layer of my cornea removed so it could heal flat.

I have spent countless sleepless nights online looking for alternatives to my CPAP. During my journey, I have tried a dental device, surgery, and more mask styles that I can count.

When my son had surgery, I was super excited to learn about a new device with great results for people who can't or don't want to use the CPAP, but I wasn't eligible for it.

Would surgery improve my CPAP experience?

When I was first diagnosed with sleep apnea, an ENT found that my adenoid and tonsils were enlarged, with my adenoid being the size of a golf ball. They were hopeful that after surgery, I may not need a CPAP, or if I did, I wouldn't need it on the highest pressure setting of 20 that it's on currently. If you had your machine on 20 – even on ramp – the only way I could describe it is like sticking your head out the window on the highway.

After the surgery, it took about 4 weeks to heal, and then we repeated another sleepy study. I was crossing my fingers that I would be able to throw the whole CPAP away. However, it helped some as I was able to go from 20 to 17, which was an improvement but still very hard to tolerate.

Could a dental appliance replace my CPAP?

I tried for a while, but once again, I quit using my CPAP. Then I tried a dental appliance with no machine as an alternative. I knew going in that I needed the machine, but it was a "something is better than nothing" step for me.

I went to the dentist, who did a custom mold and created a device that was supposed to position my mouth and jaw to keep my airways open and help my TMJ and teeth grinding at night. When I got it, I was so excited that this could possibly be an alternative to the CPAP machine.

The first night I put the device in, I woke up at about 2:00 AM, and the device was on my forehead. I went back to have it adjusted and I gave it another try. This process continued for about a week of getting adjusted, and every time the results were the same, it never made it in my mouth throughout the night. After 7 adjustments, I tossed it in the trash and pulled out my CPAP again.

What about the Inspire device?

My son had sleep apnea for a moment, but we were so blessed that after having his tonsils and adenoid removed, he no longer had sleep apnea. I was so excited during his visit when his doctor told me about one of his colleges that puts in an Inspire device. The device sends a gentle signal to move your tongue while you sleep to open your airways.

We hadn't even left his office before I was calling my primary doctor for a referral to that clinic. All I could think of was cutting the cord and being able to sleep free – unrestricted with no headgear or mask.

When I called to schedule the appointment, they asked my weight and told me that I would need to be 190 lbs. or less to even qualify for the device. I was crushed and frustrated that this option was no longer an option.

Try as I might, I always return to CPAP

Many people struggle with CPAP therapy for many different reasons. It's been a long journey for me. Using my CPAP has come with some side effects, like dry eyes. One of my earlier masks had a hard bar for the full place that damaged my cornea, but CPAP is the only tried and true treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.

No matter how many times I try to find an alternative treatment, I always return to trying to find a way to use and live with my CPAP. How many times have you started and stopped CPAP therapy?

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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