People with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have a sleep disorder in which they stop breathing while sleeping. Patients then struggle for breath, waking up enough to open their blocked airways before falling back asleep. This process might occur up to 30 times as hour, preventing the person from staying in a deep sleep.
Health care professionals have known for decades that OSA disrupts more than the person’s sleep. It can have serious short-term and long-term medical consequences. Several treatments for OSA are now available, including CPAP.
Health care providers began discussing the term “sleep apnea” in 1965. Colin Sullivan and colleagues published a clinical paper titled “Reversal of obstructive sleep apnoea by continuous airway pressure applied through the nares” in the medical journal The Lancet. (“Apnoea” is the British spelling.) At that time, sleep clinics didn’t exist. The first one opened at Stanford University in 1970.
Sleep clinics made it easier to research respiratory problems during sleep. In 1978, researchers located the exact point in the airway in which the obstruction occurred.
By the 1980s, the serious consequences of the condition were more widely known in the medical community. In 1981, for example, psychological researchers did a study describing how patients with sleep apnea differed from those with the sleep disorder narcolepsy.
Long-term studies of individuals with OSA began in the 1990s. This allowed researchers to begin to estimate the prevalence of sleep apnea in the populations of several countries, including the U.S. and Australia. China, Hong Kong, and India were among the countries studying the prevalence of sleep apnea during the early 2000s.
“Apnea” is defined as ceasing to breathe through one’s upper respiratory tract for at least ten seconds. The two main symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea are snoring and daytime sleepiness. Researchers estimate that about 40% of American women and 60% of American men snore, but most of these sleepers won’t be diagnosed with sleep apnea, which is thought to affect 3%-7% of people. Among sleep apnea patients, about 95% snore on a regular basis.
Chronic daytime sleepiness can be caused by a variety of conditions, including sleep apnea. “Sleepiness” may seem like a hard thing to measure, but sleep technologists have tests that can measure how well a patient maintains wakefulness.
OSA patients may wake up in the morning without feeling as if they’ve had a refreshing sleep. They may catch themselves waking up several times throughout the night. If the patient has a bed partner, the partner may witness times during the night that the patient stops breathing, then starts again.
Short term, people with OSA may suffer from headaches, decreased concentration, cognitive dysfunction, and overall decreased quality of life. Long term, sleep apnea has been linked with heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, and metabolism changes that could lead to diabetes. OSA can also worsen the symptoms of depression and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In instances of mild OSA, the patient may be able to treat this condition with lifestyle changes. These include avoiding alcohol, changing sleeping positions (usually to avoid sleeping on one’s back), losing weight, and quitting smoking.
Since 1983, OSA has been treated using PAP, or positive airway pressure. Colin Sullivan began experimenting with air masks on dogs in 1979, and the technology was applied to people soon after. This treatment delivers air to the lungs through a mask worn over the nose, over the mouth, or sometimes both. Air rushing in and out of the airways keeps them open, allowing the patient to breathe continuously without waking up.
Benefits of Using CPAP Machines
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the most common treatment for OSA. The benefits of using CPAP are numerous, from deeper and more restful sleep to decreased risk of heart disease and stroke.
More than one type of CPAP exists, so a patient who has problems with one type may want to try another. The machines are much quieter now than they were when they first came on the market, and the patient can easily adjust the amount of pressure. Many patients report a better quality of life after using their CPAP device.
Valley Sleep Therapy CPAP Machines and Sleep Apnea Treatments provides CPAP machines and CPAP accessories to help people who suffer with sleep apnea.