Why Not Treating Sleep Apnea Can Be Dangerous
If you think you may be struggling with obstructive sleep apnea, it’s very important to see a doctor and get checked out. Long-term sleep apnea can be very dangerous, but it’s also very treatable.
Chronic sleep deprivation dramatically affects memory, the ability to make rapid decisions, and overall cognitive function. Ultimately, if left untreated, it can lead to congestive heart failure. Elevated blood pressure and low oxygen levels all night long really take a toll on the brain and heart, so it’s essential to get treated once you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea.
How to Diagnose Obstructive Sleep Apnea
A sleep apnea diagnosis can’t be made on clinical symptoms alone. The official way to test for sleep apnea is a sleep study done in a sleep lab. You spend the night at the lab, hooked up to electrodes placed on your head, heart and legs, and a pulse oximeter on your fingers. These tools monitor what those body parts are doing while you sleep and your oxygen levels throughout the night.
The sleep study results can tell us if you’re having apnea episodes, which means you stop breathing, oxygen levels drop and ultimately you move into a lighter sleep or wake up. We can see how many times that’s happening per hour, and based on that data determine if you have apnea.
Ways to Treat Sleep Apnea
There are several ways to treat obstructive sleep apnea. The most common way, which is really effective, is with CPAP therapy. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. Everybody gets scared about wearing a CPAP mask, but they’re not as bad as you think. What I hear from most patients who are diagnosed and then treated for sleep apnea is that they feel so much better once they’re sleeping all night long, it’s worth tolerating the mask.
The CPAP machine essentially puffs air into your airway to keep it open all night long, so even if your airway muscles lose tone while you’re sleeping it stays open. Connected to the machine is a small mask that sits over the nose, and sometimes the mouth too — it depends on the patient. There are many different designs available and they can now make them very small. The idea is to get a mask fitted comfortably enough you can tolerate it for the majority of the night, hopefully five or six hours at least, so you’re getting some solid sleep.
There are some patients who qualify for an oral appliance to treat sleep apnea. If you have a really narrow airway that’s higher up or have ear, nose or throat issues, you may benefit from an oral appliance, which is worn in the mouth while you sleep. It helps move your jaw forward to open your airway, so it doesn’t collapse when you go to sleep.
Why It’s Important to Get Sleep Apnea Treated
Whether you’re commuting to work every day or a mom who’s caring for kids, undiagnosed sleep apnea can ultimately be dangerous because it decreases your cognition, memory and reaction time. It’s been proven over and over again that chronic sleep deprivation puts you at risk for being in a car accident.
Untreated sleep apnea is also really hard on your heart and increases your risk for heart failure at a much younger age. If you think you may suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, call us at Olp Family Medicine of Carmel so we can work together to diagnose and treat this common sleep disorder. You deserve the rest and health benefits of a full-night’s sleep.