In previous articles we've touched upon the causes, treatment options, and dangers of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Here we provide a few quick updates.
We pointed out that snoring is a common symptom. In actual cases of OSA, though, airways can collapse, forcing patients to momentarily stop breathing – and that's a medical disorder.
It's also a serious situation. Repeated such events of OSA can reduce blood-oxygen levels, cause abnormal changes in heart rate, and disrupt sleep throughout the night. These events can then lead to increased daytime sleepiness, moodiness and general fatigue. The result is that patients with this disorder are subject to more accidents, workplace errors, absenteeism and an overall negative impact on the quality of life. OSA can also make medical problems worse such as high blood pressure, diabetes and acid reflux.
It's clear, then, that OSA is hard on sufferers and is adding to healthcare costs. But there's good news: with proper treatment, the prognosis is very good for patients with this condition.
In earlier articles, we also indicated that positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy is the preferred treatment. Even better, over the last several years, PAP machines have gotten smarter and quieter. You can barely hear most of them when they're running. The newest ones can even respond with changes in therapy on a breath-to-breath basis. What's more, they can store data about use and send this information to healthcare providers who can evaluate whether patients are doing well or struggling.
In addition, the latest machines effectively treat many different types of breathing problems. For example, some devices, such as CPAPs, blow air at one specific pressure. Others, such as bilevel PAPs, produce different pressures when patients inhale and exhale, and that helps normalize breathing in people with more complicated medical problems.
These advances in PAP-machine technology are encouraging. Still, the use of masks remains the key to staying with PAP therapy long term. Patients have to wear them all night, every night, and that's challenging.
Here, too, though, improvements have helped. Compared to what was available 5-10 years ago, today's much-lighter masks come in many shapes and sizes. These new designs are more convenient and comfortable for patients, upping the likelihood that they'll comply with treatment over time.
The optimal treatment may combine PAP therapy with other techniques such as weight loss, surgery, avoiding sleeping on your back, and elevating your head. But determining the best approach begins with a visit to your doctor for a thorough evaluation and diagnosis. That's the first step, and it's one worth taking. With correct care, you'll be on your way to a good night's sleep and a rested tomorrow.