Suffering from Sleep Apnea can lead to a laundry list of problems – migraines, loud snoring, day time fatigue, and insomnia. Not treating your sleep apnea can cause serious damage to your body, including high blood pressure, liver problems, nocturia (frequent need to urinate at night), memory and attention problems, and depression.
Luckily, a therapy called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) can be the simple sleep apnea treatment you’re looking for.
How CPAP Works
CPAP is a non-invasive, non-surgical way to gently part the tissues of your upper airway (the part of your respiratory system above your vocal cords in your throat) so you can breathe freely while you sleep. This area of your airway sometimes collapses a little when you go to sleep, and the muscles of your throat begin to relax like the other muscles of your body. CPAP helps open up this part of your airway, by gently expanding it like air in a balloon.
When using this sleep apnea treatment, you wear a small, soft mask on your face. This mask is hooked up by a flexible hose to a CPAP unit, which is a small, quiet box. The CPAP simply delivers air pressure to keep your upper airway open during sleep. The pressure required to do so is small, yet will help you breathe normally while asleep.
About The CPAP Machine
The CPAP machine has come a long way since the 80s and 90s, when I entered the field of sleep medicine. Over the last 20 years, I’ve watched the advancement in CPAP machines and the latest machines are better, quieter, and smaller, and are like tiny computers controlling air pressure unit. Plus, there are now dozens of very comfortable masks to choose from.
Many machines also include a heater/humidifier, which can make the air pressure more comfortable and reduce drying-out of tissues.
Modern CPAP machines also use a number of subtle tricks to make them easier and more comfortable to use. For example, when you first lie down to sleep, the CPAP unit can use a lower air pressure that allows you to breathe easily in and out. It can be programmed to increase that pressure to what you need to keep your airway open, in a very personal way, after you fall asleep.
The CPAP computer is set by your sleep doctor to use the minimum amount of pressure necessary to keep your airway open, and no more. Modern machines can actually sense when the airway begins to close, and make adjustments on the fly sometimes. In doing so, these machines can keep you apnea-free by keeping your airway open in all stages of sleep.
Why I Use CPAP Therapy
One of the reasons I became interested in sleep medicine and became board certified all those years ago was because I have sleep apnea. In my earlier years, sleep apnea was thought to affect only obese people with thick necks. Then, as our tools became sharper and we were able to detect milder resistance to air flow in the upper airway during sleep, and began to realize that snoring is never really normal, I realized I had upper airway resistance myself. I used an oral appliance, or Mandibular Advancement Device, for awhile, and it helped my snoring. But holding my lower jaw forward all night, even though it opened up my airway, led to a so-called malocclusion, or problems with my bite. It was then I realized I needed CPAP and my sleep has been great ever since.
Being a CPAP user, I know all the tricks, and there are many. I can only laugh when I hear of insurance companies purchasing CPAP machines to be sent by mail to patients’ homes. Unbelievable. That’s like giving a three year old the keys to the car and asking them to go pick up groceries! I believe that’s a terrible waste of time, money, and quality of life for the patient.
CPAP Therapy is the most common and reliable sleep apnea treatment. Patients with sleep apnea get a good night’s sleep on CPAP therapy if the machine is adjusted properly and the mask fit is comfortable and prevents loss of air when the jaw relaxes in REM sleep. CPAP also prevents long-term damage to their heart and brain and memory that is caused by lack of oxygen and poor sleep.
I’ve treated thousands of sleep apnea patients, including myself, over the course of my career and I highly recommend using a CPAP machine for sleep apnea treatment. In the video below, I explain the reasons why using a CPAP for sleep apnea treatment can reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, and memory loss issues.
Some Tips for When Using the CPAP Machine
CPAP therapy is one of the simplest ways to treat your Sleep Apnea. Yet, there are still many patients who resist it and/or stop using it, finding it uncomfortable. When starting out with CPAP, a few things to keep in mind:
1. Making CPAP comfortable can take some practice. It may feel somewhat uncomfortable at first, but give it time. Play around with adjusting the tension of straps to find the way that is most comfortable for you to wear it.
2. Try different Masks. There are now over a hundred types of masks available and different ones work for different people. If the mask you’re currently using is uncomfortable, try a few different ones to see how they feel. Make sure you have a good seal for your mouth for when you relax during deeper stages of sleep.
3. Check With Your Doctor. If CPAP is still causing you discomfort, discuss it with your doctor. Many times, they will be aware of other changes you can make in order to increase comfort.
Even if the CPAP seems cumbersome at first, do not give up. Getting used to CPAP therapy and starting to use it regularly can lead is the first step on the road to a good night’s sleep as well as protecting your body from the long-term damage of sleep apnea. And when you travel, the FAA has special regulations that require air carriers to let you bring your CPAP unit into the cabin with you, in addition to your personal item and your carryon, and it’s penalty free. Remember, you can get used to wearing something new, but you will never get used to your airway closing off.
– Dr Vernon Rowe