Roughly 20 million Americans suffer from one of three types of sleep apnea. The most common form is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and it is characterized by a closing of the airways during sleep. Contributing factors to OSA are smoking, obesity, alcohol consumption, and sleeping on one’s back. Fortunately, there is lots of buzz lately about advancements in technology regarding this disorder.

The typical person gets diagnosed with sleep apnea after hearing from loved ones or even noticing themselves that they are showing the following symptoms: being awakened by loud snoring or gasping for air during the night, morning headaches, dry mouth, irritability, and excessive daytime sleepiness. Your doctor should immediately be consulted if you experience any of these symptoms, just to rule out the possibility of sleep apnea.

The next step towards getting diagnosed is to take part in a sleep study. During an overnight sleep study, electrodes are attached to a person’s face and body and the person is monitored by a technician all night long. The resulting diagnosis ranges from a  low to high severity, which translates to a numerical pressure setting on a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. This is a machine that the person takes home and uses thereafter every night. The CPAP is not designed to cure OSA, it’s merely a way to prevent further harm caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain whenever breathing stops. While it may seem awkward to use and hard to adapt, it is very important to not let OSA go untreated because it can lead to other health risks such as a stroke or heart failure, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, or even a heart attack. It has also been linked to an increase in diabetes, depression, and frequent headaches.

Until recently, people with OSA have had to get by with current CPAP technology. This includes the painstaking time and effort needed daily to clean out all hoses and the bulky humidifier, as well as purchasing copious amounts of distilled water for the device. Because of this, many people abandon their CPAP machines out of frustration. Future technology will make the humidifiers and tubing easier to disassemble and clean and make the entire unit more compact, which will appeal to travelers. In addition, the software that is built-in to the unit will be getting smarter so people will be able to download and analyze their own data. Another feature that is being discussed is the advent of infrared or UV-light technology to purify the air as the person inhales all night long. There is also talk of custom-molded CPAP masks designed to perfectly fit a person’s face. Doctors are optimistic this will go a long way towards user compliance when it comes to actually using these machines.