SUMMARY: Some 100 million people worldwide are thought to have a breathing disorder known as sleep apnea. It is estimated that 80% of these people don’t know they have it and therefore are not benefiting from life-changing therapy with CPAP machines.
Diagnosing sleep apnea is not difficult: a patient shows up at the doctor’s office complaining of symptoms common to the disorder; the doctor orders a sleep test; the results come back, and if they’re positive, the doctor focuses on treatment, which usually involves CPAP machines and masks.
What apparently is difficult is getting people with sleep apnea symptoms to see a doctor in the first place. This is because the most common early symptoms mimic the symptoms of a long list of other illnesses and conditions.
Sleep apnea sufferers who are undiagnosed and aren’t regularly using CPAP machines can lead miserable lives. Imagine being tired all the time – even when you think you’re getting plenty of sleep. Picture trying to work at your job and being too exhausted to concentrate, then making mistake after mistake as a result.
At home, how would it feel to be sad or irritable most of the time, and to live like you’re not even among the living any longer? Sleep apnea can lead to this and much more. But fortunately these early symptoms and side effects are quickly reversible with CPAP machines.
These units – many no larger than a clock radio – are designed to send a programmable level of air pressure through a tube and into a mask, which the patient wears over his or her nose or mouth or both during sleep. (There are various styles of masks.) The air keeps the throat from relaxing to the point of closing, an event called “apnea.” Without CPAP machine therapy, a person with sleep apnea will experience an unpredictable number of these “apneic events,” or breathing stoppages, while asleep.
True, few people have stopped breathing for so long they died, but even with short stoppages, havoc can be wreaked upon the body and quality of life. When we stop breathing, oxygen immediately stops going to the brain. When we stop breathing 50 or 100 times a night for possibly 10 to 20 seconds each time, unpleasant symptoms are guaranteed to result.
The most common early symptoms of tiredness and trouble focusing and concentrating are just the beginning. If undiagnosed and left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to many very serious medical conditions, all stemming from constant, long-term oxygen deprivation and sleep disruption.
Conditions that have been associated with sleep apnea include:
- Heart disease/heart attack
- Chronic inflammation
- Stunted blood vessel growth
In conclusion, sleep apnea is treatable, but not if it goes undiagnosed. Symptoms are our bodies’ way of telling us something is wrong. If you’re experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea, take the proactive step and see your doctor.
Doug Thomas is a freelance writer interested in The CPAP Shop, a leading retailer of sleep apnea therapy equipment including CPAP machines and masks as well as other equipment and accessories. Learn more at TheCPAPShop.com