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Getting Sleep Apnea Under Control

Sleep apnea is a frightening yet all too common sleep disorder.

During sleep, sufferers find that their breathing stops for a period of time, sometimes more than 10 seconds at a time. This may repeat itself five times (or even more) per hour. In people with the condition, throat and tongue muscles relax, blocking the critical airway during sleep. Getting sleep apnea under control can be a complex and time-consuming process. This article looks at the progress in recent years that sleep medicine has made in treating this dangerous disorder.

Sleep Apnea Linked to Snoring

According to the American Sleep Association, sleep apnea is often associated with snoring and increased airway resistance. As the oxygen levels decrease from poor breathing, your brain senses a problem, and then jolts the body awake in order to resume breathing. For the sleeper, this is often met by a loud gasping noise, with a feeling akin to drowning.

Sleep apnea is a chronic sleep disorder, which can severely affect the quality of sleep. What causes sleep apnea? Researchers say obesity, aging, or even a person’s facial structure are to blame. Sufferers often report daytime sleepiness. Untreated, sleep apnea can result in:

  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Motor-vehicle accidents
  • Early death

The good news is that a routine doctor’s visit may be enough to diagnosis this insidious condition. Often, a spouse will make the discovery. Some estimates claim that at least 25 million U.S. adults have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Some estimates claim that at least 25 million U.S. adults have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Sleep apnea treatments usually include an airway pressure mask as the most common remedy. Relying on motorized pumps, the mask uses the principle of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)  to keep a person’s breathing steady and unobstructed. Over the years, these masks have gotten lighter, smaller, and easier to clean, and some 5 million people have tried them.

However, CPAP masks do come with some off-putting side effects, including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Acid reflux
  • Gas
  • Sinus infection and nasal congestion
  • Dry mouth
  • Poor sleep comfort
  • Excessive noise
  • Claustrophobia

There are remedies for most side effects. Poor mask fit is often cited. CPAP mask users are advised to eat light dinners and raise the head at least four inches. Special sleep pillows are available. Adjusting room humidity may also provide relief.

New Products for Sleep Apnea

As Baby Boomers age, many will suffer from sleep apnea. Long-term research is limited, but CPAP mask therapy appears to  improve quality of life, mood, and overall productivity.

Marketers and device makers are looking for additional treatments. According to a recent survey by AP, emerging products range in price from a $350 back-sleeping restraint to a $24,000 surgically implanted device that pushes the tongue forward with each breath taken. There are also custom mouthpieces prescribed by dentists. The cheapest sleep aid? Losing weight.

On the horizon, researchers hope to develop a sleep apnea pill  that keeps patients sleeping through the night. One such drug called dronabinol or Marinol  contains THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. There are also promising results from an anti-inflammatory drug used to treat MS. In short trials, dimethyl fumarate (DMF) was shown to be effective for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

In Summary

Due to the complications and potential dangers, sleep apnea sufferers are encouraged to see a qualified sleep doctor. CPAP masks provide some relief, despite their known side effects. Medicare and most other insurers will provide for a CPAP machine if it’s medically necessary.

Whether the CPAP mask is rented or purchased, patients are encouraged to follow the instructions carefully and learn how to use the devices in order to reduce any side effects. Your doctor may require regular sleep studies in order to monitor your treatment response.

In the future, a proven sleep apnea pill may become available. For now, most sufferers will need specialized devices and professional monitoring.