You have sleep apnea. Now what?
Has your partner complained about your snoring so much that they bring it up to a doctor? If so, you may have sleep apnea. However, treatments like a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine can be used to your advantage and reduce symptoms.
Dr. Bharat K. Shah, a primary care provider at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, says that often sleep apnea is discovered by someone’s partner or spouse complaining about their snoring. While official diagnosis is made by sleep studies at sleep centers Dr. Shah also regularly has his ears peeled for patients who complain of daytime sleepiness, tiredness in the morning, falling asleep too easily, and struggling to be engaged when driving long distances.
If these symptoms seem familiar to you, don’t worry. You’re not alone. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, twenty-two million Americans suffer from the most common type of sleep apnea; obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The good news is that there are various treatments, measures of prevention and even sleep specialists to help you through it.
The first recommendation experts often give is weight loss. Even 10 percent of weight loss considerably improves symptoms. The rise in obesity in the community has increased the incidences of sleep apnea and led to more people needing to use CPAP machines, notes Dr. Shah, so it’s important to eat nutritious food to maintain a healthy weight.
Mild cases may also be managed by changing your sleep position so you are upright or on your side. This can be achieved with the help of a special pillow. Oral appliances and CPAP machines are also commonly recommended. However, while CPAP machines are a common solution, the acceptance and correct use of the machines is a big issue.
According to Dr. Shah, the trick to success with a sleep apnea machine is to find a proper fitting mask.
“Many patients find the mask on the machine to be uncomfortable and they stop using it. This is the biggest challenge in using a sleep apnea machine and it often goes under the radar. It’s easy to think that the machine just isn’t working but the reality could be that you simply have an ill-fitting mask,” said Dr. Shah.
If the CPAP machine is still not correcting a patient’s sleep apnea or if the patient can’t tolerate it, Dr. Shah suggests the patient see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) physician specializing in sleep medicine for surgical options.
There are also habits that could escalate symptoms of sleep apnea.
“Oftentimes, patients take sleeping pills in an effort to combat the problem but that only escalates the issue,” said Dr. Shah. “Emphasis should be on making a lifestyle change so you are less likely to need a machine in the first place.”
Like taking sleeping pills, another habit that could intensify symptoms is consuming alcohol at night.
Once sleep apnea is discovered in a patient there are treatments that can help reduce the effects, but nothing compares to living a healthy lifestyle before you get to that point. Preventive care is your best chance to avoid having to find a perfect-fitting mask for a CPAP, Dr. Shah said.