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Yesterday we introduced a three-part series on sleep deprivation, and how local experts say it can best be treated. Today KSMU’s Ryan Farmer explores a fairly common condition with simple treatment: sleep apnea.
“I didn’t even realize I had sleep apnea,” says Dove.
That’s Springfield resident Sharon Dove.She has sleep apnea.
“When I went to the doctor and I was telling her my symptoms, and I was getting real short of breath as far as walking from my car into a store, or to the hospital to visit or anything like that. But with those symptoms then my physician said she felt like I probably had sleep apnea and needed to go for a study,” says Dove.
She’s referring to the Sleep Study Lab at the Cox Sleep Disorder Center in Springfield. She went to the lab to have some sleeping tests done to see if she had sleep apnea, and how it might be affecting her body.But what exactly is sleep apnea, and what are its symptoms and signs?Sleep apnea is a condition where the body’s airways become blocked when sleeping.Dr. Jennifer Lynch of the Cox Sleep Disorder Center in Springfield treats patients with sleep apnea.
“When we go to sleep we relax our muscles. Some people relax more than others, and some people have more space to relax. If you’ve got a big tongue, big tonsils, things like that you’ve got more muscle tissue to collapse then you’re more likely to have that. And so if you relax your muscle tissue too much, or you’ve got too much weight from a thick neck helping to collapse your muscles, then the airway can block off. So we’re still trying to breathe, but the air just doesn’t move through,” says Lynch.
Dr. Lynch says that often those who have sleep apnea will wake up and gasp for air.In some severe cases, the person will stop breathing altogether while they sleep.She explains who typically develops sleep apnea.
“It’s felt to be about 4% of the adult male population. It depends on age group. Older people tend to have it. Somebody with a neck circumference, a shirt neck size of 17 inches or greater has a 50% chance of having sleep disorder breathing right off the bat,” says Lynch. Also, those with high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity are more likely to have sleep apnea.
Dr. Lynch says that for patients like Sharon Dove who come to the sleep lab, the clinic runs specific tests to monitor the severity of the condition, and provides them with what she calls “the machine”.
“I would say about half the time when I discuss this, they tell me that one of their friends, one of their relatives, has the machine. That would be a CPAP machine, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. And so basically what we are doing is we are propping up the airway,” says Lynch.
The CPAP machine goes over the mouth and nose, and it helps to inflate the airway by pushing back the relaxed muscles of the neck and mouth.Lynch says that at first many patients are reluctant to use the CPAP machine.In her home, Sharon Dove demonstrated how her own CPAP machine works.
“And then the mask, there are a dozen different types of masks, but this one her just goes over the nose, and fits onto the forehead over the nose like that. It’s a real long hose, there’s plenty of room to turn over, and I just have it sitting on a chair by my bead,” says Dove.
Dove says she was surprised at how easy it was to breathe with the machine.Since coming home from the lab and using her machine every night, she says she has felt it’s positive effects on her daily life.
“But it has made a big difference in my life. A lot more energy, I’m not having the shortness of breath when I walk, my legs are stronger. And I just feel like doing things again. I didn’t realize until I got on this, how bad I was feeling,” says Dove.
Experts say it’s time to see a doctor when you have shortness of breath that awakens you from sleep, or you experience random pauses in your breath while sleeping.For KSMU News, I’m Ryan Farmer