Monday, August 6, 2012

Up All Night

Everyone knows someone who snores. Maybe it’s your spouse and you have resorted to wearing earplugs to bed. Perhaps it is Grandpa John who sounds like a freight train in the guest bedroom every Christmas. We have all had long and sleepless nights because of a snorer, but did you know that snoring can be a major health risk?

For some people snoring is the most recognizable symptom of a condition called Sleep Apnea. Additional symptoms of sleep apnea are excessive daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, snoring, breathing stopping during sleep, memory and concentration problems, restless tossing and turning, and waking with an unrefreshed feeling after a full night’s sleep.

Sleep apnea occurs when a person’s airway becomes restricted or completely blocked while he sleeps. Our bodies are amazing machines, but sometimes they can work against us. When we sleep, our bodies relax, and for people who have sleep apnea this relaxation can cause the tissues in the throat and the tongue to shift and partially or completely block the airway. This blockage causes snoring, and in some cases can reduce airflow to the point where a person will stop breathing or have an apnea. An apnea is a reduction or pause in breathing.

Sleep apnea has been linked to hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and several other medical conditions. It has also been known to create tension in marriages due to the snoring of one partner keeping the other up, and in some cases causing spouses to sleep in separate rooms.

People who suffer from the symptoms of sleep apnea should talk to their family physician. The family physician will evaluate you and refer you to a sleep medicine specialist if necessary. The sleep specialist will evaluate you and perform a sleep study to determine if you have sleep apnea. Once you are diagnosed, the specialist will discuss treatment options with you.

One of the most common and least invasive treatments is CPAP therapy. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. It is a continuous flow of air that helps keep the airway open, making it easier to breathe. It should also decrease or eliminate snoring. CPAP therapy uses a machine that can be set to the specific pressure setting determined by the sleep study, a six-foot flexible air hose, and a mask. A humidifier can also be used to help eliminate nasal and throat dryness.

There are four basic types of masks that can be worn with a CPAP. They are nasal masks, nasal pillows, full face mask, and an oral device. A nasal mask only covers your nose while a full face mask covers your nose and mouth. Some full face masks even cover the entire face including your eyes. Nasal pillows rest just below your nose and have little prongs that go in to your nostrils. The oral device uses a mouthpiece that you bite down on. All of the masks and oral devices are connected to the CPAP machine via the air tube.

CPAP machines, masks, and accessories are available from home medical equipment (HME) companies. HME companies employ respiratory therapists, who are clinically trained to assist in the treatment of respiratory conditions. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, your sleep medicine specialist will refer you to an HME company for your CPAP equipment.

If you or someone you love have symptoms of sleep apnea, contact your family physician to discuss this condition. Sleep apnea can lead to complications of many existing medical conditions. If you currently use CPAP and have questions regarding your machine, mask, or accessories please contact your HME company or Equipped for Life at 301.714.0200.

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