OK, admit it. It might be a bit embarrassing, but most adults have probably had it happen at least once. You’ve been lulled into a lovely deep sleep on a bus, train or in a car. Suddenly, you jolt awake, emitting a startling loud snort. Those around you snigger, perhaps avert their eyes or even outright laugh. You pretend to be still sleeping to save face.
The reality is, many of us snore when we sleep, and for many different reasons, most of which are likely benign for the occasional snorer. But for that person who awakens nightly with a snort or a gasp or whose partner is constantly nudging them to wake up or reposition them to stop the noise, snoring can signal something much more severe: obstructive sleep apnea.
“When we start to go to sleep, we start to relax all the muscles in our body, including our airways,” says Marina Aravena, training and development manager for CanSleep Services.
“What happens for a person with obstructive sleep apnea is their airway relaxes so much that it causes an obstruction —almost imagine that you’re choking or suffocating. If you’re choking, not a lot of air gets in … so your oxygen will drop.”
The long-term effects of obstructive sleep apnea can be alarming, from constant fatigue to heart issues and high blood pressure.
Most often people experience headaches, memory loss, and a lack of concentration at work or school and even weight gain.
There are a few different approaches to diagnosis if you suspect you’re experiencing obstructive sleep apnea. People can visit their physician and then get referred to a CanSleep clinic or go to CanSleep directly for testing and treatment.
However, if someone has other co-morbidities, like severe COPD, says Aravena, their doctor will likely want to do a medical sleep lab assessment to get the whole picture.
If the patient and doctor opt for CanSleep to do the testing, the process and timeline is straightforward.
“They take a monitor home with them, and they sleep with it usually a night or two,” Aravena explains. “Then they return it to us, and we analyze it. We can let them know the results and if there is an indication for obstructive sleep apnea. With the average person, it will be pretty obvious that obstructive sleep apnea is at play.”
Once it’s clear that the obstructive sleep apnea isn’t caused by a condition that could be resolved with surgery, such as overly large tonsils, alternative treatment options can be explored to keep the airway open.
“There is no medication or magic pill for it,” Aravena admits. “There is a treatment that has been available since the ‘80s that is proven to treat sleep apnea. It’s called a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device.”
With the CPAP, a mask is worn around the nose, and it blows a constant airway pressure, using the ambient room air, to keep the airway open.
This allows you to breathe in and out easily. There’s no oxygen or oxygen tank, just the room air.
“The reason CPAP is the gold standard is because anyone can use it,” Aravena says. “It doesn’t matter how old you are. If a baby is born premature; they’ll put them on CPAP. There are lots of masks and lots of sizes.”
An oral appliance that is similar to a mouth guard is also an option for some people, but it has limitations. It can produce side effects from ongoing usage as it pulls the jaw forward and takes the tongue with it to keep the airway open.
“It’s going to pull on your jaw every night. So, there might be side effects from that. For some people, it can change their bite. It can cause TMJ issues. It can cause headaches,” Aravena adds.
For those who opt for the CPAP device, the benefits are noticeable after about two weeks, but for those with severe effects from sleep apnea, they often experience a benefit within days.
Although the provincial medical plan does not cover the device, many extended health plans offer rebates or even full coverage.
This article is written by or on behalf of the sponsoring client and does not necessarily reflect the views of Okanagan Edge.
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