I have had sleep apnea for years. As a matter of fact, I had it before I even knew there was a name for it. My father also had it but he never knew about it. He thought that he just had a hard time sleeping.
Sleep apnea symptoms can be treated at least for some people. Breathing machines that push air down your throat are the most common treatment. They are called CPAP for continuous air pressure. You wear a mask that is connected to the machine by a hose. The air continually keeps your airway open preventing any of the blockages.
If your case is severe, surgery might be suggested. The surgery has a long recovery time so you better hope the CPAP works!
Table of Contents
Definition of sleep apnea
While sleeping, someone with sleep apnea stops breathing due to blockage in the back of the throat. That blockage is usually excess soft tissue or an enlarged tongue. It could also be due to tonsils. This is called obstructive sleep apnea. There is also the less common central sleep apnea where there is a miscommunication between the brain and the mouth muscles causing the stoppage of air to the lungs.
The consequences of not treating Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can be very dangerous if left untreated. The most obvious problem that occurs is the lack of sleep. If you keep waking up every few minutes your body will never get the deep REM sleep that it truly needs. This may have effects on emotional and mental health. Sleep apnea also prevents oxygen from getting to the brain. Lack of oxygen can cause high blood pressure as well as heart disease. My father passed away at the age of 61 with heart disease and he had sleep apnea for many years.
My adventures with the CPAP
After my first sleep study, I was told that I slept with my mouth open all night. I already knew that and so did my wife. Apparently, the significance of that was that I would need a full face mask with my CPAP machine.
The next sleep study was scheduled and this time I would be fitted for a CPAP. There was a little mix up at the sleep clinic because when I arrived they didn’t have a full face mask just one that covered over the nose. The mask was put on and the machine started. The technician told me that I had to keep my mouth shut or the air would blow out of my mouth.
How was I supposed to do that? I tried to sleep but the thought of just breathing through my nose was unnatural to me. I keep opening my mouth and the weird sensation of the air leaving my mouth occurred.
The technician was getting irritated with me. He came into the room carrying what looked like a strap. He wrapped the strap under my jaw and over my head. He assured me that this would help me keep my mouth. It kept my mouth closed but it was so uncomfortable that I didn’t sleep a wink.
The technician claimed that I had slept enough to calibrate the CPAP. A technician came out to the house and went over the CPAP with me. I immediately had problems with air leakage around the mask. I put tape around the mask to block the leakage but it still didn’t help. And of course, the noise of the machine bothered me also.
Someday I might give it another try but not anytime soon.
Update: I am going back to my doctor and see if I am still a candidate for the CPAP
Sleep Apnea and sleeping pills
Some nights you wish you could sleep the whole night through without waking up one time. Of course with sleep apnea that doesn’t happen. The obstruction in the back of your throat makes sure that you wake up constantly throughout the night.
Many people wonder why folks who have sleep apnea just don’t take sleeping pills. Pop a pill in your mouth and hello sandman! Well, sleeping pills relaxes the throat muscles; you know those same muscles that obstruct your breathing. This makes the apnea much worse not to mention the snoring. And it is not just sleeping pills that have this effect, alcohol right before bedtime will do the same.
If you really want to relax before you go to bed try relaxation tapes or self-hypnosis tapes. Also don’t eat very much if anything before you go to bed. It’s hard to feel comfortable when your stomach is churning.
Recently there has been talking about improving sleep apnea by doing throat exercises
Surgery options for Sleep Apnea
Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) I know that’s a mouthful, excuse the pun. This surgery removes tissues from the back of your mouth and if you haven’t already had your tonsils out they might take them too. It requires a hospital stay and they use a general anesthetic. It’s more successful for stopping snoring than Sleep Apnea because there may be more tissue farther down the throat.
Maxillomandibular advancement The upper and lower part of your jaw is removed from your face bone. That sounds great, doesn’t it? It enlarges the space between your tongue and soft palate eliminating some of the obstruction.
Tracheostomy This is for severe sleep apnea when all else has failed. A hole is made in your throat in order for a tube to be placed in it. During the day the hole is covered up but at night it’s open and you breathe through the tube in the hole. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Of all the health-related tests that you can experience the overnight sleep study (polysomnogram) could be one of the strongest that you will ever experience. Unlike other tests, you will need to be completely asleep in order for the test to produce the proper results. That is difficult in itself considering the reason that you are having the test is that you have a hard time going to sleep.
Before you show up to the hospital or where ever the test is taking place instructions will be given to you. On the day of the study, you are instructed not to take any naps. That makes sense because you need to be very, very tired at the onset of the sleep study and definitely no caffeine. No caffeine can be difficult if you are hooked on coffee or soft drinks.
The test usually starts around nine o’clock in the evening. You probably won’t be the only person taking the test so it may take a little time before the technicians get you ready.
The room that you are put in is supposed to look less like a hospital room and more like a bedroom. But most bedrooms don’t have a camera pointing at you in bed. Of course, some people do have a camera in their bedroom but that is another post on another blog.
After you have gotten into your sleepwear, the technician will apply all the wires and metal discs that are needed to score your test. And there are quite a lot of wires and metal discs. From your head to your chest to your legs and feet you will have the metal discs placed all over you. They will be held on by a glue-like substance that you will find is very hard to get off your skin and especially your hair. The wires are attached to the metal discs which transfers information to the technicians’ monitors.
After you are hooked up the technician will go into the observation room and run through a series of tests to make sure that everything is hooked up correctly. The tech will communicate through a speaker that is in your room.
When everything has been calibrated, it is time to go to sleep! This is the difficult part because of all the things that are attached to your body. And the thought that someone in another room is watching you can be a little unnerving. But you must try; if you don’t the whole evening will be a waste of time.
If this is your first study you probably won’t be interrupted all night. Of course, if you need to use the bathroom you have a buzzer to ring the technician who comes into your room and helps you and your set of wires to the bathroom.
If it is a split study halfway through the night you would be fitted for a CPAP calibration.
At the end of the test, you will hear the voice of the sleep study technician telling you to wake up. The tech comes into the room and unhooks you of all your wires and metal discs. Most places have showers so you can attempt to wash the glue out of your hair. Usually, it takes a few showers to get that stuff out.
The doctor will get back to you on how you scored on the sleep study. At that point, he can tell you with certainty whether you have sleep apnea or not.
What is the difference between apnea and hypopnea?
Hypoapnea is shallow breathing with a low respiratory rate, whereas with apnea the breathing is stopped completely.
22 million Americans or 6.7 percent of the population have sleep apnea. 2 to 4 percent of the population is considered to be undiagnosed with sleep apnea.
Reference: American Sleep Apnea Association.
Children can have sleep apnea as well
When folks talk about sleep apnea there seems to be an acknowledgment that the people that have it are adults, but that isn’t necessarily true. Unfortunately, children can also have sleep apnea as well. The causes of it in children are usually tonsils and adenoids.
The CPAP can also be used for children as well but they will probably have some the same adjustments problems that adults have regarding the CPAP mask.