Sleep Apnea: Could Compression Stockings Ease OSA?

If you have sleep apnea, all you may need to do is change your socks. A new study suggests that wearing compression stockings during the day could ease your sleep apnea at night.

Compression stockings are tight elastic socks, like hosiery, that squeeze the diameters of veins and reduce swelling. They help people who are on their feet a lot, like nurses, or people who suffer from varicose veins.

During obstructed sleep apnea (OSA), the person's airway is narrowed or blocked, which stops respirations. This can occur multiple times a night. OSA affects 12 million Americans and increases risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, irregular heartbeat and diabetes, according to Reuters.

A continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, device is the standard treatment for OSA and, despite the "modest" improvements shown in the study, scientists aren't willing to toss that aside for the compression stockings.

For the study, published in Sleep Medicine, 22 OSA patients wore compression stockings during the day for two weeks while 23 OSA patients who did not don the knee highs were used as the control group. The stocking-wearers experienced reduced apnea episodes - a decrease of 27 percent.

The authors concluded, "below-the-knee compression stockings decrease OSA severity modestly via attenuation of overnight fluid shift and consequent upper airway dilatation," but daytime sleepiness was not eased or eliminated in the study subjects.

"Getting rid of excess fluid is one approach of treating sleep apnea," said T. Douglas Bradley, co-author of the study and a professor at the University of Toronto, according to Reuters. "This study highlights what we believe to be a new cause of sleep apnea. This is further evidence that it really is a mechanism that causes sleep apnea."

"At this point, I do not recommend stockings to treat sleep apnea," sleep specialist Dr. Jafari Behrouz of the University of California, Irvine told Reuters. Behrouz was not involved in the study.

"The patient and physician can discuss what's the best treatment for them. For the majority of the patients, the best treatment still is the CPAP machine."