Sleep apnea, an update ©

This is an update of a column I wrote back in November of 2015. At that time I had been diagnosed with, but not yet treated for sleep apnea.

Do you have a secret disease you’re not even aware of? I did. And now that I know I have it, I’m very anxious to get it treated. It’s called sleep apnea and if you have it, there’s a very good chance you’re not aware of it. It’s usually discovered by a spouse and then confirmed by a sleep study.

So what exactly is sleep apnea? It’s a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, and often gasp for air….. sometimes hundreds of times a night. This means the brain — and the rest of the body — may not get enough oxygen.*

I had no idea that I had this condition except for the fact that my wife told me and my doctor ordered a formal sleep study to confirm it, which it did. A sleep study consists of going to a sleep study center, often in a local hospital, and being “wired up” so you can be monitored while you sleep.

What are the symptoms? If left untreated, sleep apnea can result in a number of health problems, including:

The thing that really got my attention and finally made me act on my wife’s prodding was the irregular heartbeats I was experiencing. When the cardiologist told me that sleep apnea was a primary causal factor, I finally relented and had the study done.

If you’re experiencing chronic fatigue, daytime drowsiness, and/or some of the above symptoms, you may have sleep apnea, especially if you have one or more of these risk factors:

Being male

Being overweight

Being over age 40

Having a large neck size (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women)

Nasal obstruction, or sinus problems*

But don’t get side tracked if you don’t have some of these risk factors. For example, the sleep technician who worked on me told me that her patients include almost as many women as men.

So what is the treatment? To my knowledge there isn’t a cure for sleep apnea but there is an effective treatment using a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device when you sleep. This consists of a mask that you wear over your nose during sleep that pressurizes your airway to keep it from collapsing while you sleep.

Update,….. so what are the results after being treated for sleep apnea by using a CPAP devise for about 18 months (less a hiatus while the machine was out of order)? In a word, positive. I’m sleeping better with fewer wakeups, my wife tells me my breathing is no longer irregular while sleeping , I feel better, have more energy and my cardiologist tells me that I’ve drastically reduced the probability of having a stroke. One word of caution: the machine has to be maintained to insure proper vaporization from the water reservoir or you will experience a bad case of “dry mouth”.

* If you suspect that you may have sleep apnea, go to WebMD® for a full discussion of the disorder. It could pave the way for much better health in your senior years.

Thanks for reading All About Seniors……see you next week!

Bill Milby, CSA, is a Certified Senior Advisor and a Director of Visiting Angels® of Macon, a non-medical, living assistance service for seniors. If you have questions or comments about this column you can reach him at william.mercylink@gmail.com

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