Can CPAP therapy reduce pain for people with obstructive sleep apnea?

One of the most effective remedies for sleep apnea -- continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy -- may also have the benefit of reducing sensitivity to pain. A recent study found consistent use of the CPAP could reduce pain sensitivity in patients with severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The study tested 12 patients -- 7 men and 5 women -- with severe obstructive sleep apnea. They found that six to eight weeks of regular CPAP use led to significantly reduced pain sensitivity and also to improved continuity of sleep.

CPAP works by pushing a constant stream of air through the sleeper's airway, to keep it from closing. Sleep apnea occurs when muscles in the back of the throat collapse, closing off the airway. This causes a person to stop breathing. It also interrupts a person's sleep cycle, since those who suffer from sleep apnea are awakened, however briefly, often many times throughout the night by their breathing problem.

It's possible that the CPAP allows a person to sleep through their full sleep cycle, achieving the later stages of sleep that are so restorative, and also appear to help decrease our sensitivity to pain. This study is just a beginning -- we don't yet know why CPAP might be effective in reducing pain sensitivity. But these results are promising and intriguing.

For millions of people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, and perhaps other independent conditions that bring about chronic or intermittent pain, the possibility that CPAP could help reduce sensitivity to pain is welcome and important news. It's also another reason to make sure that patients who have been prescribed CPAP as a treatment actually follow through with the therapy. The CPAP can work very effectively, but only if it's actually used! This latest research provides yet another very good reason for people with OSA to make sure that the CPAP is part of their nightly routine -- every night. The benefits may be even broader than we previously thought.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.