Americans took 2.1 billion trips for business or pleasure in 2014. That's a lot of time away from the comforts of home. For people with sleep apnea, travel creates the dilemma of what to do about their CPAP (continuous positive air pressure) machines: Do I lug it with me or try to struggle through sleep without it? Fortunately, there's good news with more choices in treatments and devices to help apnea sufferers sleep soundly while on the road.
Sleep apnea is a disorder where breathing stops and starts during sleep (sometimes up to hundreds of times per night) because the back of the throat collapses during sleep, blocking the airway. The major symptoms include snoring and gasping or choking during sleep. Lack of oxygen typically results in poor sleep and daytime fatigue, and is associated with cardiovascular problems, an increased risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and obesity.
The most prescribed treatment for sleep apnea is the nightly use of a CPAP machine. CPAP machines include a mask that fits over the nose and mouth that provides constant airflow, keeping the airway open and the sleeper breathing throughout the night. CPAP machines also track breathing changes and that data is used by healthcare professionals to adjust, as needed, the air pressure as well as possibly add additional treatments or medications for maximum effectiveness.
Because some of the most effective CPAP machines are rather robust and cumbersome when it comes to packing light for travel or camping, travelers often resist taking their machines with them. But device manufacturers and sleep medicine professionals understand that many people need easy "CPAP-to-go" travel solutions, and there are good alternatives for apnea sufferers.
A travel CPAP machine is a smaller, more compact version of a traditional CPAP. In general, travel devices are smaller because they don't include a humidifier, which some people are willing to give up for the convenience. Many of today's travel CPAP machines have the benefit of being able to monitor and record sleep data.
Our typical travel CPAP patient is a male corporate executive who travels at least one week per month and has been a CPAP user for at least 10 years. This patient consistently uses his CPAP machine at home and strongly believes that the health and performance benefits of CPAP therapy outweigh the minor inconvenience of taking his travel CPAP along. Because the travel device is easily portable, he uses it on the plane while he sleeps as well as at his hotel.
When deciding which type of travel CPAP machine is right for you, be sure to read the reviews to determine durability. Like all pieces of equipment, no two are built alike. While travel CPAP machines are typically very easy to use, they usually aren't as durable as a home CPAP device. Also, consult with your respiratory therapist or other healthcare professional for advice on fit and comfort of your travel CPAP device.
There are no wires, masks or machinery with an oral appliance that is worn in the mouth during sleep. It fits like a mouth guard and holds the jaw forward to help maintain an open upper airway. Much like a CPAP machine, an oral appliance must be fit to its user. A prescription from a physician and a visit to a qualified dentist is required to receive the custom-made device. While oral appliance therapy is covered by many healthcare plans, insurance may not cover the cost if you already have a CPAP machine. If you and your physician don't choose an oral appliance for your primary at-home apnea treatment, it may be a fine solution for you during travel.
Nasal Valve Therapy
While called a "therapy," the nasal device is much simpler than that. Relatively new on the market, the valve attaches over the nostrils and is secured with hypoallergenic adhesive tape. As the user breathes, the valve opens and closes, redirecting air to create resistance on the exhale that in turn creates pressure in the back of the throat to keep the airway open.
These single-use devices are approved for sleep apnea by the Food and Drug Administration and require a prescription, but they are not covered by insurance. The cost of Nasal Valve Therapy runs about $2-$3 a day.
We have patients who regularly use CPAP machines at home and use Nasal Valve Therapy for travel. The patient that uses Nasal Valves on the road travels approximately five days a month and has tested and used Nasal Valve Therapy enough at home to be comfortable with it as a good travel solution for sleep apnea. Best advice for travelers: Try Nasal Valve Therapy for at least three nights at home to be sure you are comfortable and confident that it will be effective during your travels. Users can easily take nasal valves onto an aircraft with them to use during sleep on the plane -- the packet fits into a handbag, a backpack or even a coat pocket.
Tips for traveling with your therapy equipment
Be sure to bring the prescription for your CPAP device and its accessories and/or a letter of medical necessity just in case you have to prove to the TSA agent or flight crew that your device is necessary.
CPAP machines do not count as one of your carry-on items for airline travel because they are considered medical devices under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so feel free to bring your device with you into the plane cabin.
Before packing your device, empty the humidifier tub of any water and keep it empty even if you use the device during the flight. Aircraft turbulence can lead to spills that may damage your equipment.
If you have an overnight flight you'll want to make pre-flight arrangements with the airline; you'll need to receive clearance to use your device during the flight and you'll want to be sure that you are seated near a power source.
It's a good idea to always bring an extra battery and an extension cord, just in case.
It's important to remember that different parts of the world have different power sources. Be sure to bring the appropriate adapter so that you're able to use your equipment.
Using a CPAP device every night is important for the health and well-being of those with sleep apnea. Forgoing your CPAP machine while away from home will not only deprive you of a good night's sleep, it is not the best choice for your health. Consult your health care provider and take advantage of the many choices for CPAP-on-the-go.