Dr. Anna Charbonneau

Therapy for people living with stress, depression, and medical conditions

Treatments for Sleep Apnea

by Dr. Anna Charbonneau | Tags: sleep, physical health

Treatment for sleep apnea is very simple but many people don't stick with it. Why? Let's take a look at how sleep apnea is treated, why some people have trouble with it, and what you can do to be successful at treating your own sleep apnea.

Two Kinds of Sleep Apnea

If you remember, there are two kinds of sleep apnea: central and obstructive. You need a sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea. Your doctor will recommend a treatment based on what kind of sleep apnea you have and how severe your sleep apnea is.

Treatment for Central Sleep Apnea and Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The treatment for these two types of sleep apnea is the same. It's called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP for short.

In central sleep apnea, your brain signals that regulate breathing aren't getting through to your body. In severe obstructive sleep apnea, your airway is getting blocked completely. The results for both sleep disorders are the same: no oxygen is getting to your blood.

The CPAP fixes this issue by providing a constant flow of air into your lungs.

What Exactly IS a CPAP?

The CPAP is a small machine. These machines, when they were first invented decades ago, were loud and huge. However, with advances in modern technology, these machines have become small and quiet.

The CPAP has three basic parts.

  • A motor for pulling in and pressurizing air
  • A mask that fits comfortably over your lower face (nose and mouth)
  • A plastic tube that delivers the pressurized air from the machine to the mask

The machine and motor are computerized. Each person will need a different amount of pressurized air. These settings for air, oxygen, and pressure will be determined by the sleep study center. The process of adjusting your CPAP machine to your specific needs is called titration.

Why Do Some People Have a Hard Time with CPAP treatment?

In short, sometimes having a mask on your face is uncomfortable. Some people have trouble with finding a comfortable sleeping position. Some people say the CPAP is too dry and irritates their throat.

The good news is that all of these problems are easily solvable.

  • Is the mask uncomfortable?
    • Sometimes the straps are too tight or too loose. Your sleep technician will help you adjust the tightness. The mask does have to be tight enough on your face so that air doesn't leak out.
    • If you are having a really difficult time with adjusting to having a mask on at all, try wearing the mask around (without the connecting hose) for 10 minutes at time during the day. Your face and head will definitely adjust to the feel, but it can take a few weeks. Stick with it.
  • Trouble finding a comfortable sleeping position?
    • Special pillows have been designed to make sleeping with a mask comfortable. These pillows are usually made of a soft bean-bag-like material, so that your face and mask rest comfortably without a lot of push back from regular, fluffier pillows.
  • Too dry?
    • Newer machines include special small units that moisturize the air before pulling it through the machine. This is called a humidifier chamber. If your throat is feeling dry or irritated, make sure your machine can add moisture. Most machines will instruct you to use distilled water. This is so that there will be no chemicals in the water that could damage your machine. You can find distilled water cheaply at any grocery store.

Why is treatment for sleep apnea so important?

Sleep apnea is a severe disruption in your sleep. Many people with sleep apnea feel like they are sleeping, but in reality their brains and bodies are constantly interrupted during sleep and never actually get any rest. This can lead to complete exhaustion and severely worsen any other chronic health conditions, including obesity, chronic pain, low back pain, fibromyalgia.

If you have sleep apnea, the single best thing you can do for yourself is stick with treatment.

In the next post I'm doing to talk about other ways to treat sleep apnea besides a CPAP.