What is a CPAP?
CPAP is an acronym for continuous positive airway pressure. It’s a small machine that blows air through a tube and mask that allows for your airways to stay open so you can breathe. The strength of the pressure depends on the severity of the sleep apnea.
Newer models of CPAP machines are smaller, lighter, and quieter making it easier to live with. There are also more mask options than before. It’s important to find one that fits you so work with your CPAP provider to find one that makes you happy.
Why is a CPAP important?
If you suffer from sleep apnea that means that while you are sleeping you stop breathing for a duration of time, and likely multiple times a night. Specifically obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is when there is a pause in breathing of at least 10 seconds due to the softening of the upper airway tissues like the tongue or uvula and getting in the way. OSA is the most common form of sleep apnea so we will focus on this type but be aware there are other types.
While an apnea has to be more than 10 seconds some people stop breathing for minutes and, in serious cases, interruptions can happen more than 30 times an hour!
Can you imagine the consequences of multiple pauses in breathing? Even just a few times can cause oxygen saturation to lower which can have drastic consequences.
If you’re not breathing, your body will wake you up so you can catch a breath which means not only is your breathing interrupted but so is your sleep. Sleep apnea sufferers tend to also experience daytime sleepiness and fatigue. We all know being tired during the day is no fun. It may also be a contributing factor to memory problems, mood issues, and performance issues. Cognitive abilities, as well as reaction time, have been known to suffer from sleep problems and it can’t help if your brain is working on lower oxygen.
Untreated sleep apnea can also lead to a whole host of health complications, even be premature death. Sleep apnea has been strongly linked with type 2 diabetes and obesity. High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease also have strong ties to untreated sleep apnea. Overall, if the body isn’t getting enough sleep or oxygen it has a hard time of taking care of itself.
OK, I’ll get a CPAP. What’s next?
Use your CPAP every night. Some insurance plans require a certain amount of compliance to continue to cover your treatment. Ask your doctor what your insurance requires. CPAP compliance is important though for you to see improvement in your condition.
Lifestyle adjustments can help with your treatment as well. Losing weight, exercise, eating well, and avoiding drinking and smoking can improve your condition. Some people are able to lower their CPAP pressure or get away from it completely by getting to a proper weight and a healthy lifestyle.
Don’t forget to clean your CPAP equipment. Since it is blowing air directly into your body, you’ll want to make sure everything is clean to avoid any mold or bacteria exposure. It should be done at least weekly and can be done with some mild soap and water.
What if I don’t like using my CPAP?
CPAP isn’t for everyone but it is the gold standard for treating sleep apnea and most people benefit from using it. If you’re finding that you’re struggling with the CPAP speak with your doctor about some solutions before abandoning it completely. It may just be a mask change or pressure adjustment. As stated before, consider working in healthier lifestyle options while you’re using the CPAP. You may be able to lower your pressure or even stop using it.
If you really can’t get behind the CPAP ask your doctor what your other options are. A newer solution includes the Inspire. It is implanted in the body and signals your muscles to open the airway without disturbing your sleep. A specially fitted dental device is also an option as well as surgery.
Regardless of the treatment option you choose, it is important to choose one that works for you. Your healthcare provider can help in advising your best course of action.