Sleep apnea is a serious disorder known to impact the lives of millions of Americans every year. While many who suffer from apnea are completely unaware of their condition, it is frequently caught by loved ones or physicians during routine exams.
Sleep apnea is the disruption of breathing during sleep caused by blockage or when the area of the brain which controls breathing does not send a message to the muscles which control breathing and the pattern is disrupted for abnormally long periods. Once the kind and severity of your apnea is determined, your physician will discuss the options most suited to meet your needs.
For mild sleep apnea, diet, weight loss, and lifestyle changes may be suggested. Other options for mild apnea include oral devices that help position the mouth to aid in keeping the airway open. When the sleep apnea is more severe, a sleep apnea machine or other device may be used to help alleviate the symptoms.
The most commonly used device to treat sleep apnea is the Continuous Airway Pressure or CPAP machine. The CPAP works by forcing pressurized room air through a tube and into a mask that covers the user’s mouth and nose. The continuous flow of air holds the muscles and tongue firm so the throat stays open, allowing for proper breathing. While it is not a cure, CPAP is the most effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.
There are many manufactures of sleep apnea machines, and many which offer different features. Your physician will recommend several types that may more specifically address the type and severity of your apnea, realizing it may take a few tries to find the one most comfortable apparatus. The American Sleep Apnea Association suggests renting and using several before deciding on which one will work best for you. Some of the common features and specifics include:
- A small machine ranging in size from a radio alarm clock to a shoebox
- Tube or hose through which the air passes
- One of several types of masks that cover either the nose or both the mouth and nose
Common Concerns While Adjusting to the Sleep Apnea Machine
The CPAP is not always tolerated by all users, and does take some time to get used to wearing the apparatus. Some of the most common complaints include:
- Dry mouth
- Stuffy or dry nose
- Noisy equipment
- Skin irritations around the mask
- Difficulty in turning over while attached to the machine and the feeling of being encumbered
- Difficulty in getting used to the pressure
While it can be very frustrating at first, it is important to realize the value of the treatment, and not give up. Many of the concerns can be easily handled with slight adjustments or changes in the type of equipment used.
Advantages of the CPAP
Sleep apnea left untreated can contribute to other very serious health hazards, such as heart failure. Patients using a CPAP machine are known to lower their blood pressure, see diminished daytime sleepiness and an increase in cognitive abilities. While some treatments may seem cumbersome at first, the advantages far outweigh any small discomforts.