Alternative treatment option for sleep apnoea patients being trialled at Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals

4 January 2019

Research which uses a neck device to treat a type of sleep apnoea has been given the green light thanks to funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) through their Research for Patient Benefit grant.

The research, led by Dr Julia Kelly, a clinical research fellow at the Trust, will determine whether the neck device can help patients with a Positional Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (POSA).

POSA effects one in ten adults in the UK and is caused by the muscles at the back of the throat relaxing during sleep. This results in the airway becoming blocked causing breathing to stop for several seconds every minute, which in turn causes them to wake up. Continuously waking during sleep causes sleepiness in these patients and can lead to long-term heart problems and an increased risk of stroke. Patients with POSA can be particularly affected when they sleep on their back because the muscles and soft tissues in the throat relax and collapse to a degree while sleeping.

Currently the best treatment for these patients is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device which blows air into the lung and stops the airway closing. However, CPAP can be uncomfortable and difficult to use, especially for older people, with many patients only managing 2-3 hours of CPAP usage a night, which is not enough to feel rested.

Recent new developments in technology have resulted in companies developing devices that use gentle vibrational feedback from position sensors to prevent people from sleeping on their back. One such device is worn on the neck and is designed so that when someone with POSA sleeps on their back, it gently vibrates, encouraging them to move into a different sleeping position.

Dr Kelly’s research project which will open in April 2019 aims to see just how effective this device is in patients with POSA and whether it improves their quality of life; in particular it will focus on whether the device reduces disease severity in patients, if there is any difference in the treatment effect of the therapy between older and younger patients, and whether the therapy reduces daytime sleepiness and improves quality of life.

Dr Kelly's research would not have been possible without the support of the Clinical Sleep and Ventilation department at the Trust and Mary Morrell, professor of Sleep and Respiratory Physiology at Imperial College London.

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