Inspire: A Device to Treat Sleep Apnea

Inspire is a relatively new device used to treat obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type of sleep apnea. It is approved for use in people who have not had success with continuous positive airway pressure machines (CPAP).

What is the Inspire device?

Inspire is a tiny machine similar to a pacemaker. It is implanted into the chest in a same-day, outpatient surgery. Three small cuts are made to place the device. The device includes a small machine that creates an electrical pulse to stimulate a nerve in your tongue. This causes the tongue to move forward at night as you breathe. This keeps your airway open.1,2

You must have a follow-up appointment 1 month after this surgery so your doctor can check to make sure the device is working well.

How does Inspire work?

When you get ready for bed, you click a remote control to turn the device on. As you sleep, Inspire monitors your breathing. Every time you breathe, Inspire opens your airway by stimulating the hypoglossal nerve. This nerve causes the genioglossus muscle in the back of your tongue to move forward. This is the muscle that blocks the throat during sleep in some people with obstructive sleep apnea.

Inspire lets you sleep without a mask or hose. You use the device each night and slowly increase the stimulation rate.

Who qualifies for an Inspire device?

To qualify for Inspire, you must have tried a CPAP machine for at least 3 months without success. You must also have had a sleep study to document the severity of your sleep apnea. You must also:1,3

  • Be age 18 or older
  • Have moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea
  • Have a body mass index (BMI) below 33 kg/m2
  • Have a throat structure that allows Inspire to work

Adults with mild sleep apnea, children, a BMI over 33, or certain throat conditions do not qualify for Inspire. People with certain health conditions are not good candidates for Inspire, including those with:1

  • Neuromuscular disease
  • Hypoglossal nerve palsy
  • Severe heart disease
  • Some mental health issues

What are possible side effects of Inspire?

Possible side effects of Inspire include:1

  • Temporary pain after surgery where the device has been placed
  • Temporary tongue weakness
  • Tongue soreness

Tongue soreness tends to get better over time or when your doctor adjusts the device. You may be prescribed over-the-counter pain relievers after surgery to take care of any soreness. Talk with your doctor about other possible side effects.

Things to know about Inspire

Before you can get an Inspire device, you must undergo a test called a drug-induced sleep endoscopy (DISE). This looks at your airway to make sure you have the right anatomy for the device to work. You will need a follow-up sleep lab test (polysomnography) about 2 months after Inspire is inserted to track how well your sleep apnea is controlled.1

If the sleep study that first documented your sleep apnea is too old, you may need another sleep study to update its findings.2

Insurance companies and Medicare/Medicaid sometimes cover the cost of Inspire.

It is made by Inspire Medical Systems and was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2014.

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Written by: Jessica Johns Pool | Last reviewed: January 2021