As someone with obstructive sleep apnea, I was pleased to see The Royal Gazette give coverage to this common but chronic disorder the other day.
The more exposure this disorder gets the better as many people are unaware that they have sleep apnea and go untested, often with tragic results. While sleep apnea itself will not kill you, like high cholesterol it can have serious and life-threatening consequences if left untreated. These include: high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, car accidents caused by falling asleep at the wheel, diabetes, depression, weight gain, impotence, and headaches.
The good news is that once diagnosed, sleep apnea is treatable and manageable. I would urge anyone who has any sort of sleep problems to talk to their doctor as soon as possible. Although I always snored badly (people in adjacent hotel rooms were known to bang on the wall), it wasn’t until my wife, who is a light sleeper, noticed that I stopped breathing several times a night that I became aware that I had a serious problem.
Following a visit to an ear, nose and throat specialist, I was hooked for an overnight home test which confirmed a problem. That was followed up with a full sleep study at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston that revealed the seriousness of the disorder.
As a result I now sleep with a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine, a pneumatic portable device (not an oxygen tank as referred to in the Gazette story) that maintains air pressure through a nose or nose and mouth mask to keep the patient’s airway open during sleep. It’s not a sexy look and did take a bit of getting used to but it’s a small price to pay when one considers the consequences.
Oh, and my wife is not woken up by my impression of a 747 taking off next to her every night.
I hope that in time, the new King Edward VII Memorial Hospital will have full sleep study facilities here in Bermuda but at present, most patients will need to travel to Boston for this. Fortunately most local health insurance companies will cover the cost of the flight and two-night stay.
There are other treatment options depending on the severity of the apnea. I would recommend the following sites for anyone wishing to find out more details about the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea:
- American Sleep Apnea Association: www.sleepapnea.org
- National Institutes of Health: www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sleepapnea/
- Sleep Apnoea Trust Association: www.sleep-apnoea-trust.org
- British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association: www.britishsnoring.co.uk/