Researchers say that, for the first time in history, they have seen sleep apnea as it happens in natural sleep. The researchers at the University of Southern California say they had to work hard to create an MRI capable of seeing the airway in realtime, but when they did that they were able to see how the airway collapsed.

The hope is that this new data can help us improve sleep apnea treatment options through a better awareness of the anatomy involved.

The Problem with MRIs

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is commonly used to analyze the structure of the airway that contributes to the development of sleep apnea. However, it is a tool that has historically been ill-suited to picking up sleep apnea.

The problem with MRI is that it gives detailed information that is too detailed for the purpose. MRI scans the airway and captures skin, blood vessels, and tissues of all types, distinguishing them based on their density and other properties. This detailed scan takes about one to three minutes. However, in order to be able to actually see sleep apnea happening, the scans need to be completed in about half a second or less.

In order to do that, they had to remove a lot of the detail. Essentially, they programmed the MRI to ignore everything about the airway, except the airway itself. The scan focuses on the contrast between open airway and solid tissue. By doing this, they were able to get the scan time down to the necessary parameters. And this allowed them to see the collapsed airway.

Building a Better Sleep Test

The hope is that, using this new technology we will be able to create sleep tests that better determine the true cause of a person’s sleep apnea so we can recommend the best treatment. These new MRIs will not only allow us to identify the anatomy in question, but will allow us to test multiple times during sleep to determine whether a certain sleep apnea treatment might work better than others. It could help us decide on a specific oral appliance.  It also allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment, so that people won’t continue using a treatment that just isn’t working for them.

Even without this technology, though, we already know how to make expert recommendations about whether an oral appliance will be effective, with an accuracy of 90% or more. If you would like to learn whether this sleep apnea treatment is right for you, please call (402) 493-4175 for an appointment with an Omaha sleep dentist at the Advanced Dental Sleep Apnea Treatment Center.