For this question, I always say that it may be difficult to see any benefits because we don’t have any information from past literature in acupuncture and Chinese medicine for treating sleep apnea. Sleep apnea usually is diagnosed by western medicine according to main symptoms such as pauses in breathing or shallow breaths when sleeping. Beside the above symptoms, however, sleep apnea commonly are accompanied by loud snoring, abrupt awakening, morning headache and nasal congestion, and so on. In reality, there are many informations in acupuncture and Chinese medicine for treating “loud snoring” in past literature. Those may be able to help us find some clues for the treatment of sleep apnea with acupuncture and Chinese medicine. In acupuncture and Chinese medicine literatures, the “loud snoring” describe a symptom which is very similar to the sleep apnea’s conditions. It is commonly caused by a blockage in the airway, usually related to throat, and involves the lung and nose by Chinese medicine theory. There are a lot of information in past Chinese medicines literature that has shown that acupuncture can benefit the symptoms involving sleep apnea’s conditions such as loud snoring, nasal congestion and pauses in breathing or shallow breathes. At this, I changed my mind about the treatment of sleep apnea with acupuncture as I garnered more experience.
In acupuncture clinic, I found that there are many patients with symptoms such as nasal congestion, difficulty with nasal breathing and loud snoring, they also have multiple diagnosis with both sleep apnea and allergies. Moreover, we observed that symptoms of sleep apnea such as pauses in breathing or shallow breathes got help following allergies conditions improved by acupuncture.
Once I had a patient who came into clinic to seek help for his allergies with nasal congestion as a main problem in 2004. After a few sessions of acupuncture treatment, he reported that his nasal congestion improved, his breathing was much better, as was his sleep apnea symptoms and he didn’t need to use CAPA machine. After that, I have had patients who came in seeking help with their allergies or other problems and acupuncture ended up helping with their sleep apnea symptoms.
On March 2015, a 67 year old man came into office wanting help for the edema and numbness in his legs due to side effect of the chemotherapy. At the same time, he wanted to try acupuncture to help his sleep apnea with nasal congestion, mild difficulty with breathing and medium snoring. He had been using CAPA machine for 10 years. He felt that his nasal congestion had improved and breathing was better after a few minutes with auricular acu-point pressing and much better after the first session with acupuncture combined with electric –acupuncture. During the second visit, his nasal congestion and breathing still improved, his wife reported his loud snoring improved too, and he had not had to use CAPA machine for a few nights. After a few sessions of the acupuncture, the edema and numbness in his legs were gone, and his sleep apnea symptoms were much better. After 5 months he came back again and wanted help with his other problems, while he reported that his sleep apnea had improved without CAPA machine for about 3 month after acupuncture, he occasionally used CAPA machine in recent month.
On May 2015, I got a phone call from a 39 year old man who had a question on whether acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine could benefit his sleep apnea. He was diagnosed as sleep apnea and has been using CAPA machine for 5 years. The CAPA machine had helped in the first 3 years but had stopped helping in the last 2 years. After asking him a few questions about his conditions on the phone, I knew that acupuncture might help his conditions based on the knowledge of Chinese medicine, clinic observe and experience. After consultation, I found that he had symptoms on the nose, mouth, throat and lung such as nasal congestion, loud snoring, abrupt awakening, can’t breathe by nose, pauses in breathing or shallow breathes, whizzing and chest congestion, dryness of mouth and throat; he had painful sensation in his whole body, which includes daily headache, pain in neck, upper, middle and lower back, hips and limbs; he also has emotional problems such as stress, anxiety, depression, over thinking, abrupt awakening, fatigue most times, etc. He has a history of above conditions from teenage and has lasted for 20 years. After examination with a few minutes of the auricular acu-point pressing, he felt that his nose opened and could breathe better via the nose, he felt much better about his conditions after manual acupuncture combine electric –acupuncture. He came back for second treatment and reported that his symptoms had improved in the sleep apnea, pain and stress, anxiety and poor sleep, and did not use the CAPA machine in first two nights. After a few weeks when he came back for other session of acupuncture, he reported that most of his conditions were much improved without CAPA machine for about 5 weeks, he started to use the CAPA machine again in the 6th week.
Clinic observes suggest that acupuncture could benefit sleep apnea symptoms, even if there was no formal treatment. There could be better results if given regular and formal treatment such as once or twice a week for one or two course, and so on.