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Living with Sleep Apnea

Updated on August 25, 2017

Over the last ten years or so the issue of sleep apnea and its potential health effects have been widely publicized and discussed. It is not uncommon today to know someone who has been diagnosed with this sleep disorder.

My particular case of sleep apnea was discovered about fifteen years ago and I've been living with the disorder and the treatment ever since. In my particular case it was my wife who suggested that I get tested. This is often the case with sleep apnea as the person with the disorder rarely realizes what is going on and is not aware that their breathing is being disrupted or that they are waking up periodically during the night.

Depiction of CPAP
Depiction of CPAP | Source

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea is a sleep disorder where pauses in the breathing process occur, or abnormally low breathing is occurring during sleep. The pauses in the breathing process can last anywhere from just a few seconds to many seconds.

There are three generally accepted forms of sleep apnea; Central (CSA), Obstructive (OSA), and mixed (combination of the two). In central sleep apnea one’s breathing is characterized by a lack of respiratory effort. This form comprises less than one percent of all sleep apnea cases. In obstructive sleep apnea, which is the form that I have, your breathing is disrupted by a physical block to the flow of air. OSA accounts for 84% of all sleep apnea cases. Mixed sleep apnea is simply a combination of the two and accounts for the remaining 15% of cases.

CPAP Machine used to treat sleep apnea
CPAP Machine used to treat sleep apnea | Source

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea occurs when the neurological signals for breathing malfunction and fail to signal the body to inhale. This causes the individual to miss one or more breathing cycles. The breathing cycle does start again but due to this pause the oxygen level in the blood can drop and the level of carbon dioxide can increase to abnormally high levels.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissues in the throat relax to the point that they obstruct the airway. This can happen to individuals who have low muscle tone and an excess of soft tissue around the airway. It is more likely to happen to the elderly and to men, but it is not uncommon for women and children to suffer sleep apnea.

Some factors that can contribute to OSA include smoking, body weight and age. While snoring is a possible symptom of OSA it does not always mean the OSA is present and excessive snoring does not correlate directly to the severity of OSA. However, combined with other factors such as obesity or having a large neck, it can be a reliable predictor of OSA.

Some of the other factors that increase one's risk for sleep apnea include having large tonsils and/or a large tongue, sinus issues such as allergies or having a deviated septum, and family history.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive Sleep Apnea | Source

In my particular case I am not overweight, do not have a large neck, do not smoke, but do snore and have sinus allergies. For some reason my particular anatomy in the throat area lends itself for the airway to become obstructed especially when I sleep on my back.

Symptoms

Individuals with sleep apnea may go for years or even decades without a proper diagnosis and may become so conditioned to the symptoms of fatigue and sleepiness that they have no idea that there is a problem. While more prevalent in adults, sleep apnea can also affect children as well.

In addition to daytime fatigue, sleep apnea can also lead to vision problems, impaired alertness, low blood oxygen, and slower reaction times, all of which can be dangerous especially when getting behind the wheel of a car. There is also mounting evidence that sleep apnea can cause impairment to one’s liver function. If left untreated, there are a number of health problems that can develop over time including diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and heart issues.

Source

Some of the more common symptoms of sleep apnea that may be more noticeable to others include restless sleep, loud snoring and sleepiness during the day. In my particular case it was my wife who alerted me to some of the symptoms. In addition to snoring, which was keeping her up at night; she also noticed that I seemed to stop breathing for short periods of time. I was also experiencing periods of extreme tiredness during the day. This prompted a visit to our doctor and eventually to a sleep specialist.

Diagnosis

The formal diagnosis of sleep apnea in my case was made following a formal sleep study. This involved an overnight stay in the hospital where I was hooked up to enough apparatus that I wondered if I would be able to sleep at all.

The test is called a polysomnography (PSG) and it’s a comprehensive recording of any biophysiological changes that are occurring while you sleep. The test monitors numerous body functions including heart rhythm, eye movement, brain activity, muscle activity, respiratory airflow and blood oxygen level. The results of the PSG test give an indication of the number of apneic events occurring per hour and this is used to gage the severity of the sleep apnea.

Treatment

Some of the things that contribute to sleep apnea can be dealt with as part of a possible treatment. Losing weight, avoiding alcohol, and learning to sleep on ones side as opposed to one’s back can all help with the disorder. An oral appliance can also be prescribed which can help with mild cases of sleep apnea. The appliance, similar to a mouthpiece, shifts the lower jaw forward thereby opening the airway.

CPAP Machine
CPAP Machine | Source

CPAP Machine

For more moderate to severe cases the treatment of choice is to use a CPAP machine. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure, and works by supplying pressurized air into the throat to force the airway open. The pressurized air is supplied via a flexible plastic tube that has a face mask at one end that fits over the individual’s nasal area. The other end of the tube connects to the CPAP machine which supplies the pressurized air.

While the use of a CPAP machine has proven to be extremely effective in reducing sleep apnea some patients find the face mask to be uncomfortable. My personal experience with the CPAP found the mask to be uncomfortable initially, but eventually I did get accustomed to it and have been using this method for over 15 years.

CPAP Mask
CPAP Mask | Source

For patients who are not helped by the CPAP or who refuse to use it, a surgical procedure can be performed to correct the nasal airway or to reduce excessive soft tissue in the throat. As every case is different any surgical procedure would need to be highly individualized to address that person’s particular obstruction issues.

As with any medical issue you should consult with your doctor if you think you may have sleep apnea. A sleep study (PSG) can be ordered to determine definitively whether or not you have this condition. I was diagnosed with sleep apnea over 15 years ago and having been using a CPAP for that entire time. There are absolutely no side effects to using a CPAP. I put it on when I retire for the evening and take it off when I get up. I run, bike, hike, swim, travel and have absolutely no restrictions due to the sleep apnea.

© 2012 Bill De Giulio

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    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Linda. Stop by anytime. Glad I could help, Have a great day.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I stopped by to get your hublink to share with a friend who was recently diagnosed with sleep apnea. Thanks again for creating this fab hub!

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Sunshine. Thank you. Your story is similar to mine. My wife suggested I get tested about 15 years ago and we've bought been getting a better nights sleep since. A lot of people shrug this off... but the condition can have very serious consequences.

      Have a great day.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Superb article on Sleep Apnea. It's the most informative hub I've seen on HubPages since I've been a member. It's truly needed to spread the word on this life threatening condition if it's not properly diagnosed.

      I also suggested my husband get tested and he has sleep apnea and has used his C-Pap machine for over 12 years. He was finally able to get a good nights sleep. As was I. Thanks for this hub!

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Millionaie Tips. Yes, I still have one of the older style masks from when I was first diagnosed with this about 15 years ago. It's what I'm used to so I've stuck with it. Someday it wolf be nice to move to a smaller mask however. Thanks for the read, comment and vote. Good luck.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      I recently had the test done, and they have come up with many different types of masks, and some of them are quite small and much more comfortable than the ones pictured on this hub. They all do have their pros and cons though, so the test that tells you how much air you need will help you choose the type of mask that is right for you as well. I don't have mine yet, and it is good to know that you do get used to it over time. Voted up.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Suzie,

      Before I was diagnosed with this I really had never heard about it. But when I started looking at the symptoms it all made sense. It was actually my wife who noticed that I would stop breathing at night.

      I would run it by your doctor just to make sure. Guess we all have burdens to carry but you right that we should not let it curtail our lives. Keep me posted if you do get tested. Thank you as always for taking the time to read, comment and of course the vote and share. Have a great day.

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Hi Bill,

      What a really interesting article and I'm so glad you were diagnosed and your treatment has been so successful. You are a great ambassador for showing it does not have to affect your everyday life nor curtail your passions such as running and travel. I have found I have a tendency to "doze" at night on the sofa and often do have restless sleep. I have spoken to my doctor as I thought it may be a side effect of my Epilepsy medication.

      Reading this, makes me now think I should get tested for sleep apnea.

      Thanks Bill, awesome hub, voted up, interesting, useful, awesome and shared!

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Carol. Over the years it's amazing how many people I've discovered who suffer from this. Certainly something people should be aware of. Thanks as usual for the comments, vote and share.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      This is most interesting. Though I do not suffer from sleep apnea I know many people who do. You covered everything that one needs to know. Great hub and voting up and sharing.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks Brook Health Care. It's amazing how many people may suffer from this and not know it. The more it get s written and talked about the more people get educated. Thanks for stopping by to read and comment.

    • Brook Health Care profile image

      Linda Shanabrook 5 years ago

      Enjoyed the hub. Congratulations on addressing this issue with yourself and encouraging others. The more symptoms like this are discussed, the more that pepole will recognize themselves or a friend or family member.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Alicia. Thank you for reading, glad you enjoyed the hub. It's all about awareness. 20 years ago I had never heard of sleep apnea. Today it's more widely known and I know numerous people who have this disorder in addition to myself. Have a great day.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Terry. Thanks for visiting and commenting. Sleep apnea can be serious and anyone who suspects they have it should get tested. Thank you for the vote and share, have a great day.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an interesting hub, bdegiulio, which will be very helpful to people who are wondering if they are suffering from sleep apnea. Thanks for increasing my knowledge about this topic!

    • point2make profile image

      point2make 5 years ago

      Thank-you for this excellent hub on such an important subject. Sleep apnea can be a serious condition and those who suspect they may be at risk and are suffering the symptoms need to be tested. Good job raising awareness. Voted up and shared!

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Karina. It does sound like you may have sleep apnea. The only way to be certain is to consult with your doctor and have a sleep study performed. The problem with sleep apnea is that there can be some not so good long term effects to this condition. Do yourself a favor and talk to your doctor. My wife says she saved my life by insisting that I have a sleep study done.

      Thanks for reading, hopefully it helped.

    • pringoooals profile image

      Karina 5 years ago from Edinburgh

      I suffer from great sleepiness. If I could I would sleep 12 hours a day. I snore and I wake up gasping for air quite often. I wasn't even aware of such condition as sleep apnea and it looks like it might be it. I always thought that I just need more sleep than others and I feel so tired because I don't get it. It's really great to read the article which can explain where it might come from and that it can be trated. This condition is really annoying because sometimes it is so hard to focus or do anything if there is no chance to catch some additional sleep during the day. It would make the significant change to my life if I could change it. Great thanks for sharing this information.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Deb. How unfortunate that insurance won't cover this test. I would keep after them and have your doctor get involved. I have not had the symptom of tingling in my arms and hands but I suppose it could be related to the apnea in some way although my research did not find any indication of this. I would definitely run this by my doctor.

      Best of luck with your son and with the insurance company.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Prakash. I was the same as you, comfortable sleeping on my side, but snored like a freight train when on my back. You could have a form of sleep apnea. The only way to be sure is to get tested.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks Bill. I owe my thanks to my wife. Without her insistence I'm not sure I would had gotten tested. Have a great day.

    • debbiepinkston profile image

      Debbie Pinkston 5 years ago from Pereira, Colombia and NW Arkansas

      Thanks for all the great information. I suspect that my son who is 24 has sleep apnea. His Dr. suggested the sleep study but our insurance doesn't cover it. We are in the process of trying to find out how much the sleep study costs and if we can afford it. I guess that no matter how much it costs, we will have to do it eventually. My son has tingling in his arms and hands (he's a guitarist). Have you ever heard of tingling as a symptom of sleep apnea?

    • Prakash Dighe profile image

      Prakash Dighe 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas, USA

      I tend to have trouble breathing when I sleep on my back, and wake up with a cough or a gasp for breath - some form of apnea? - but am comfortable when I sleep on one of my sides. Very interesting, Bill!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I have a friend who has this and functions quite well because of the treatments. Glad your case is being controlled! Very interesting and useful information.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Kristy. Does sound like you may have sleep apnea. The only way to tell for sure is to get a sleep study done. I know it's not very appealing to have to sleep with one of these CPAP machines but there might be other treatment methods that will work for you. Might be worth mentioning to your doctor? Good luck and thank for stopping by to read and comment.

    • kristyleann profile image

      Kristy LeAnn 5 years ago from Princeton, WV

      My dad has sleep apnea and has to sleep with one of those CPAP machines. I don't know how he can stand it. His is particularly loud but he sleeps right through it. I've been told by people that I tend to stop breathing in my sleep as well, and then suddenly gasp for air and then I'm okay again...I wouldn't be surprised if I have sleep apnea too. Might explain why I pretty much always wake up still feeling exhausted.