IDAHO FALLS – Almost twenty years ago, Idaho Falls resident Paul Lopez woke up to realize he was choking.
He had never experienced anything like this before. Startled at the experience, he participated in a sleep study, which revealed a diagnosis that almost 6 million people in the US have received – he had sleep apnea.
According to the American Medical Association, almost 30 million people in the United States have sleep apnea, but only 6 million are diagnosed.
Lopez was quickly given a CPAP machine and while it helped his breathing – it created other problems.
“I would wake up frequently with headaches, it would fall off of me, I just couldn’t handle it,” says Lopez. “My then-wife was telling me, you know, you snore a lot. This is bad. So she helped me get an appointment to see Dr. Hall.”
Dr. Ryan Hall, an ear, nose, and throat doctor in Idaho Falls, sees many patients with sleep apnea and says it’s a fairly common diagnosis but can be extremely dangerous.
“What happens with obstructive sleep apnea is the muscles in the back of the tongue and the throat relax as we fall asleep. But with people with sleep apnea, they relax to the point that they block the airway,” says Hall. “When it blocks the airway, to the point that a patient can’t breathe, that’s when it becomes dangerous and when oxygen levels drop.”
When oxygen levels drop, it can lead to headaches and increase your risk of heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and even dementia.
After hearing Lopez’s story, Hall suggested that he would be a great candidate for a new device designed to treat sleep apnea called Inspire.
According to a news release by Inspire, the device is “a breakthrough obstructive sleep apnea treatment option for those who cannot use Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy.”
The release states the device works with the patient’s natural breathing process to treat sleep apnea.
“Mild stimulation opens the airway during sleep, allowing oxygen to flow naturally. The patient uses a small handheld remote to turn Inspire on before bed and off when they wake up.”
According to Dr. Hall, the device is a nerve stimulator placed under the skin above your chest during a simple medical operation.
“In 2014, this device was developed to stimulate the tongue and the palate to move them forward to open up the airway.” says Hall.
The medical procedure lasts about two hours and consists of one incision under the jaw where an electrode is placed. From there, the Inspire battery is placed under the skin on the chest, which connects to the electrode.
The patient is given a remote control to turn the device on before they go to sleep.
Lopez says there is a huge difference between his quality of life before and after Inspire, and he detailed the moment he realized just how much the device has helped him sleep.
“About two months in, I forgot to turn it on one night, and guess what? I started to choke; I was gasping in the middle of the night,” says Lopez. “I’m thinking, woah, I think this thing is working. The first night I forget, and I’m choking in the middle of the night. Something is going on good here.”
Thankfully now, Lopez can rest easy.
“I thought I was going to die eventually from choking,” says Lopez. “I really thought I would someday when I get older. I don’t think about that anymore.”
To learn more about Inspire, you can attend Dr. Hall’s community health talk on April 18 at 6:30 at the Hampton Inn a the Mall in Idaho Falls, on 2500 Channing Way.
You can also live stream the event by registering here.