So, you've had a sleep study and been given the news you were already probably prepared for based on your doctor's suspicions - you have Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Your persistent snoring that you shrugged off for years has been revealed to be a real problem. Your sleepiness at work or while driving isn't because you're getting older - it's because you have a medical disorder that needs to be treated.
For some this diagnosis might be devastating, while for others it might be a relief. Depending on the severity of symptoms and the length of time they've been occurring, some might be excited to have a solution for their increasing fatigue, weight gain, and irritability. No matter what emotion you feel when you are officially diagnosed with sleep apnea (and you may actually feel a combination of many), try to remember a few things - 1) Sleep apnea is now believed to be as common as diabetes with as many as 20 million Americans estimated to be affected and 2) there is treatment that is proven to decrease the symptoms and medical conditions associated with untreated sleep apnea.
Most treatment plans prescribed for Obstructive Sleep Apnea include, as a primary component and as the gold standard for therapy, CPAP therapy. CPAP - or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure - machines are a seemingly simple treatment idea for a very complex sleep disorder. Basically, CPAP machines force air through a mask into the airway preventing any obstructions with the prescribed level of airflow throughout the night. During the night, sleep apnea sufferers wear some type of CPAP mask (nasal, nasal pillows, or full face, depending on treatment pressure, sleep style, and level of comfort) which is connected by a hose to a CPAP machine that resides on a night table beside the bed. As the user sleeps, the CPAP blows air at the prescribed pressure continuously or changes pressure depending on the need at any given point (AUTO CPAP machines or APAP machines). This air flow ensures that the soft palette and throat tissue do not droop into the airway and (hopefully) eliminates the persistent snoring common to untreated sleep apnea.
As you read this, you may be nervous or upset about the idea of being tethered to a mask and machine all night long. You may feel embarrassment about sharing your bed with someone while wearing a CPAP mask or using your machine. You may just feel angry that you have this disorder, and you may be looking for options to not use this form of treatment. Many newly diagnosed patients do feel upset when they are presented with CPAP treatment as their only option, and that's very understandable, but there are a few things to remember -
- While CPAP treatment does have side effects, many times these can be eliminated by education, trial and error, and proper mask fitting. Also, the treatment isn't a pharmaceutical one and doesn't add any chemicals into the body - a plus for many people.
- CPAP treatment is the absolute gold standard for treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea. It is the only thing scientifically proven to consistently reduce or eliminate episodes of apnea. While there are other treatment options out there for OSA, they are risky and often don't eliminate the problem (and some include major surgery!). CPAP is the most commonly prescribed treatment and the one that most all sleep specialists recommend.
- CPAP treatment reduces or eliminates sleep apnea and the accompanying side effects with consistent use.
- CPAP treatment can alleviate or eliminate other health conditions you might not have realized were related to your untreated sleep apnea, like heart disease or hypertension.
- Sleep apnea is a silent killer. Too many people are dying from heart disease and other medical conditions that may be related to untreated or undiagnosed sleep apnea. Treating your sleep apnea properly with your prescribed CPAP treatment is the best way to ensure your health. Non-compliance or non-treatment should never be an option.
- CPAP does take a lot of getting used to. It's very foreign at first and requires a difficult period of adjustment. But you can adjust and adapt. And when you do (whether it takes a week or a year), you'll see the health and lifestyle benefits every day for the rest of your life.
- With the right doctor, respiratory therapist, CPAP educators and suppliers, and support group CPAP treatment can be an effective and relatively easy solution to a complicated and dangerous problem.
So, now that you are diagnosed, it's time to get treated. Don't wait - contact your doctor today for a prescription and start researching CPAP machines and masks. Advocate for yourself throughout the process and insist on the most education and information you can get and hopefully your adjustment to CPAP treatment will be relatively easy compared to the symptoms you're experiencing now.