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Sleep Apnea Symptoms and Treatment

So your doctor suspects you may have sleep apnea? Don’t panic. Your doctor and respiratory therapist are here to help you.

You’ve been breathing this way for many years and waking up throughout the night feeling tired and often with a headache. Your spouse may often complain about your snoring. You feel sleepy during the day and often realize that you fell asleep for a few minutes here and there throughout the day. You feel tired all day with no energy. It’s hard to concentrate and you even feel depressed. Sound familiar?

These are all signs and symptoms of sleep apnea. During sleep apnea the back of the throat relaxes and collapses completely blocking your airway to breathe. Your heart rate will increase and your oxygen level will drop. It puts a lot of stress on the body. The brains response to this is to signal the lungs to take a deep gasping breath to open the airway so that you may breathe again. This deep gasping breath wakes you a little each time it happens. Because of this you never fall into a deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

The next step for you is to have a test called an overnight sleep study test or polysomnography. This test is performed by a respiratory therapist. This test monitors your breathing, heart rate, respiratory rate and oxygen saturation while you are sleeping. By measuring how many times you breathe per minute periods of apnea can be detected. If it is found that you indeed have sleep apnea then a pressurized machine called CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) or BIPAP (Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure) will be trialed on you with a mask. It is simply a continuous flow of air that holds your airway open as you relax and go to sleep. This flow of air is measured by a pressure manometer to determine the most effective flow of air/pressure for you.

Now, you may ask “How am I supposed to sleep with a mask on my face?” Well, when you learn that you are having moments of no breathing hundreds of times per night then you may be more inclined to try it. These moments are called periods of apnea. That means you completely stop breathing for periods of time. Of course your brain forces your lungs to take a deep breath and open up your airway again. But again, each time this happens you wake up just enough that you don’t fall into a deep REM sleep. This is the very reason you are so tired during the day. It may also be the reason you have high blood pressure and can lead to more serious complications such as depression, stroke and heart attack.

Your respiratory therapist will work with you to get a type of mask that will fit you perfectly and be comfortable for you. The pressure (flow of air) can be titrated by a respiratory therapist so that you can sleep comfortably. Of course, the physician’s orders will have to be followed but the doctor usually gives a range of pressures to try to allow for patient comfort. The machine is also heated and humidified for your comfort. No one wants cold air blowing at them. The air will be warm and moist. These settings are also adjustable.

After using your CPAP or BIPAP machine for a week or so you will notice a difference in you level of concentration and your energy level during the day. You will feel like the old you… or the young you!
You will come to comfortable rely on your CPAP or BIPAP machine. It will become a part of your bedtime routine. Your spouse will also sleep better without your snoring and knowing that you are breathing steadily throughout the night.
This flow of air or pressure simply acts as a splint to hold open loose tissue that collapses when you relax and fall asleep. Just imagine how much stress it is on your whole body when you deprive it of oxygen. But now that you have a solution you can improve your health and add years to your life by being compliant with the use of your CPAP or BIPAP machine.

Your respiratory therapist will educate you and follow you throughout the use of your CPAP or BIPAP machine. He or she will always be there for you to answer any questions and alleviate any concerns you may have. All of your supplies will be delivered to you by your respiratory therapist, such as new masks, tubing and filters for your machine. You make have questions about insurance and how often you can have a new mask. Your respiratory therapist will have all the answers for you.

If you are concerned that you may have obstructive sleep apnea, please don’t hesitate to contact your physician today. It is a very common condition and is easily remedied provided you take the necessary steps and remain compliant with the use of your machine.

There are other ways to reduce the severity of sleep apnea. This includes diet and exercise. Most patients who have sleep apnea are overweight but sometimes it is simply a matter of anatomy. You may have a short neck and this contributes greatly to sleep apnea. Others have centralized sleep apnea. This is a neurological (brain) disorder and will be diagnosed by your doctor when you have your sleep study test. There are also other alternatives such as oral devices that claim to stop snoring. There are over 37 oral appliances on the market that promote the theory that they can help improve your sleep apnea.

I have patients who simply love their CPAP or BIPAP machines. They take them on vacation with them. They wouldn’t think of sleeping without them. These patients are responsible adults trying to improve their health. They are more concerned with living longer than with how they look while they are sleeping.
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Using positive pressure (CPAP or BIPAP) will ADD years to your life.

So, call your doctor if you have any sleep apnea symptoms such as:

  • Headaches
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • snoring

So now that you have a good picture of the treatment of sleep apnea it’s not so scary right?
Your respiratory therapist will be there with you every step of the way. Our job and way of life is helping others breathe.