Sleep apnea is a common sleep issue that not only causes annoying snoring for you and your partner but can be detrimental to your sleep quality and overall health. There are many solutions marketed as a “quick fix” for sleep apnea, but do they really work?
One device that’s reported to help is a chin strap. Chin straps are often marketed as devices to help with snoring, but they have the potential to treat sleep apnea as well. We’ve gathered the research on this device to help determine whether chin straps for sleep apnea really work.
What is A Sleep Apnea Chin Strap?
A chin strap for sleep apnea is made from flexible fabric or neoprene that is placed under your chin while you sleep. It wraps over your head for support and is designed for the purpose of keeping your mouth closed while asleep.
Even when people use a CPAP machine and using a nasal mask, they can breath with their mouth open. This ruins the pressure the CPAP is providing and cause negative side effects like fatigue and gas. The chin strap is meant to prevent mouth breathing encouraging the person to breath through the nose.
How Does A Chin Strap Work?
A sleep apnea chin strap works by keeping your chin supported and your mouth closed while you’re asleep. The logic behind it is that keeping your mouth closed prevents air from traveling into your throat.
When air travels into your throat, there is rapid flapping that causes the throat to close in the case of obstructive sleep apnea temporarily. It’s also the mechanism that causes snoring. Keeping the mouth closed avoids airway blockage caused by this mechanism.
Is There More Than One Type of Chin Strap?
The purpose of all sleep apnea chin straps is the same, but there are differences in design across manufacturers. The biggest difference is in the ability to adjust your head and face for comfort purposes.
Most devices adjust to different sizes, but some offer different sizes of straps and don’t adjust individually.
Since there are over 100 different brands available with the same purpose, finding a chin strap that’s comfortable for you may be a trial and error exercise.
Do Chin Straps Work For Sleep Apnea?
While the media is often quick to jump on reports of medical devices that treat sleep disorders and report them as a success, chin straps are not a quick fix for obstructive sleep apnea.
Companies that sell these products also have a tendency to exaggerate study findings in an effort to sell their product. What does the research really say?
By creating positive airway pressure by keeping the mouth closed, chin straps do function in a similar way to a CPAP machine, but without the noisy machine. With mask treatments or nasal pillows that are inserted into the nostrils, the mouth is allowed to remain open and allow air to escape. With a chin strap, there is no ability for air to move into or out of the mouth.
The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine published a study in 2007 that showed one (yes, you read that right, only one) patient experienced relief from sleep apnea when wearing a chin strap.
Several studies subsequent to this showed that several patients with sleep apnea were unable to tolerate the positive airway pressure that occurred while wearing a chin strap. There are also many reports from people (who don’t have sleep apnea) trying chin straps as a solution for snoring, who have rendered the treatment unsuccessful.
A more recent study in 2014, also from the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, included a report regarding the use of chin straps as a treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. There was no improvement in any measures of sleep apnea or snoring in 26 patients.
Other sleep components were looked at as well, including the amount of REM sleep or sleep position changes. Unfortunately, the results showed no improvements with a chin strap in any of these conditions.
Advantages of A Chin Strap
The greatest advantage of a chin strap is that it’s a non-invasive treatment. There’s minimal risk of damage or discomfort because it doesn’t have to be placed inside your mouth or put pressure on your face like other treatments.
Chin straps are easy to clean and store when you’re not using them, and they don’t disturb your partner by attaching to a noisy machine like a CPAP.
Disadvantages of A Chin Strap
If you’re a mouth breather, you will likely have trouble sleeping with a chin strap. It can take some time to get used to breathing solely through your nose. There can also be discomfort or breathing difficulties if you have any kind of nasal blockage, deviated septum, or nasal polyps.
Breathing difficulties also occur during times where your nose is plugged, such as when you have a cold or allergy symptoms.
There are a few individuals who report chin straps to be irritating to the skin. This may be a reaction to the fabric it’s made from, and, in this case, there are some different fabric options.
Using A Chin Strap in Conjunction With Other Treatments
Chin straps can be used in tandem with other treatment devices like BIPAP and CPAP machines, as well as nasal sprays and medications. Feedback from users confirms that it can also be used effectively with a mandibular advancement device.
Side Effects of Using A Chin Strap
There is likely to be some minor level of discomfort when first using a chin strap due to restricted movement. Some chin strap users report mild stiffness in their jaw in the first few days of use.
There are no other negative side effects reported for chin straps, and it is a safe device to try with minimal risk.
The bottom line is that the research does not support chin straps as a viable treatment option for sleep apnea, neither does it appear to be an effective treatment for snoring.
There’s some evidence that suggests it could be effective as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for sleep apnea sufferers who are mouth breathers, but this is rare. As it is a non-invasive option, it may be worth trying in conjunction with other sleep apnea treatments.