In honor of Sleep Awareness Month, we at Rice Home Medical are shining the spotlight on sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is more common than you might think. The National Sleep Foundation reports that more than 18 million Americans struggle with this nocturnal disorder. Despite that statistic, sleep apnea often goes unrecognized by its sufferers and their loved ones. This can be a dangerous, even deadly oversight.
What is sleep apnea?
“Apnea” is a Greek word meaning “without breath.” It is aptly named, as sleep apnea occurs when a person ceases to breathe during sleep. These pauses in breathing can last from ten seconds to often over one minute. This happens repeatedly throughout the night, forcing the brain to trigger a wake-up response to restore air flow to the lungs and brain. These interruptions do not allow the sufferer to enter deep sleep, causing the disorder’s effects to bleed well into waking hours.
The most common form of sleep apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea (or OSA). It occurs when the airway closes, or partially closes, due to a collapse or looseness of the soft tissues in the back of the throat. This is a dangerous disorder that can manifest in a host of serious side effects: loud, disruptive snoring, nighttime choking or gasping, irritability, memory loss, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, depression, headaches, and excessive daytime sleepiness, among other issues.
What is the treatment for sleep apnea?
The most common course of treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is the use of continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. This machine supplies air with a predetermined level of pressure to keep airways open. The pressured air is delivered through a breathing mask, available in different forms according to comfort and breathing style. This regulates the patient’s breathing and even keeps snoring at bay. This is the most consistently successful method of treatment. Less common options include surgery, medication, oral appliances, and implants.
While sleep apnea is not considered curable, there are steps patients can take to improve their overall condition. Some of these include: losing weight, exercising, drinking alcohol only in moderation (and not for several hours before bed), quitting smoking, and avoiding sleeping on their backs.
What should sleep apnea patients know?
Veteran patients should remember to change their CPAP supplies regularly in order to keep their therapy consistent. CPAPs should be checked annually, and patients should contact their doctor if they have any concerns about their symptoms or their machine’s performance. Patients should not cease therapy without the approval of their doctor.
New sleep apnea patients should know to enter this therapy with a positive attitude, understanding that there will be a transitional period. It will take time for the CPAP to feel entirely comfortable. Patients should keep in mind the importance of this therapy and the danger of the disorder it treats, and let that be motivation to work through the transition. Most importantly, new patients should be certain they have the correct type of mask, to match their breathing style and ensure a proper seal.
Rice Home Medical Clinical Manager Shawn Flegel urges family members to “be encouraging and supportive of CPAP use. Look at the positive use of CPAP: better control of other associated health issues, waking up more refreshed, enjoyment in daily activities if they are more rested. Be patient: don’t give up. Slow but steady progress is often the realistic path to sleep disorders and use of a PAP device.”
Perhaps most importantly, do not be afraid to ask questions. If you notice symptoms in yourself or a loved one, speak up. Ask your doctor. Be informed, and be safe. Remember: it is always worth the time it takes to take care of yourself.
Sleep Apnea FAQ
Are you changing your disposable filters on a regular basis?
You can bill two disposable filters to insurance per month.
Does your CPAP use a reusable filter?
A reusable filter can be billed to insurance at 6 months.
Have you replaced your tubing recently?
You can bill insurance for replacement tubing at 3 months.
Is your mask sealing properly?
Large leaks can be a significant problem with your OSA therapy. Contact your clinician about a new mask style/size.
Is your pillow causing your CPAP mask to leak?
A CPAP pillow may be beneficial.
Are you using the correct style CPAP mask?
The wrong mask can significantly impact your OSA therapy.
- Nasal Pillow Mask – must be a nasal breather, less invasive, simple to put on and take off.
- Nasal Cushion Mask – must be a nasal breather, cushion around the nose only.
- Full Face Mask – allows you to mouth breathe also, cushion around your nose and mouth.
Are you replacing your cushion, mask, and headgear regularly?
You can bill insurance for a new cushion monthly, mask every 3 months, and headgear every 6 months.
Are you having problems with rain out (water) in your tubing and mask?
A heated climate line can help eliminate the problem.
Have you had your PAP pressure checked recently?
Your clinician can verify the accuracy of your PAP pressure with a manometer.
Did you know the life expectancy for your PAP device is 5 years?
Insurance will pay for a replacement PAP device after 5 years.
*Special thanks to Shawn Flegel, CRT, Rice Home Medical Clinical Manager for sharing her sleep apnea expertise, and to Tim Volk, Rice Home Medical Clinician for his added expertise, and for supplying the FAQ.