Millions of people struggle with the nightly effects of sleep apnea and countless others continue to remain undiagnosed. While this illness can present itself in a variety of severities, even mild symptoms should be examined by a trained doctor or a sleep specialist.
However, it can sometimes be difficult to know whether broken sleep patterns are the result of this clinical condition or if other issues (such as common insomnia) may be the culprit.
Let's still assume for a moment that you have recently been diagnosed with a mild form of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In this scenario, your doctor may have discussed lifestyle changes that can help – as well as treatment options.
One of the most common therapies involves the use of a positive airway pressure (PAP) machine. These devices are highly effective and have been proven to alleviate symptoms associated with OSA.
So, do you need a CPAP? In order to find the answer, we must consider your symptoms and their severity.
Let's highlight a handful of scenarios which a PAP device can effectively address. It will then be easier to discuss how severity can play a role in making the final decision.
What are Some Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
One issue which can lead to diagnostic problems involves the fact that many of the symptoms of OSA can "bleed over" into other unrelated conditions. Examples include insomnia (as mentioned earlier), narcolepsy and disorders of the internal body clock.
This is once again why consulting with a specialist is the best strategy to adopt at an early stage if you notice issues with sleep. Still, some common warning signs that you could be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea include:
- Excessive snoring
- Waking up in the middle of the night choking or gasping for air
- Tiredness and lethargy throughout the day
To be clear, many of us experience these symptoms from time to time -- and if they occur occasionally, they are normally nothing to become concerned about. Problems can nonetheless arise if one or more present themselves on a chronic basis. In such a scenario, a PAP machine could very well be warranted.
Knowing the Differences Between Mild and Severe OSA
Not everyone who has been diagnosed with sleep apnea will require medical intervention. Indeed, some may even appear to be relatively asymptomatic. This is why appreciating the differences between mild, moderate and severe cases of OSA is likewise important.
Sleep specialists will often use a measurement known as the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) to gauge the severity of your symptoms. The AHI is simply a way of determining how many times your sleep is disturbed within each hour that you remain asleep. Here is a breakdown of how a condition will be classified:
- Mild: between 5 and 15 episodes each hour
- Moderate: between 15 and 30 disturbances
- Severe: More than 30 AHI episodes
In moderate and severe cases, the use of a PAP machine will generally be recommended and it can provide a surprising amount of relief within a relatively short period of time.
Let's now look at the basics of a typical continuous positive airway machine to appreciate how it can help to improve your sleep patterns.
How Does a PAP Device Function?
The PAP unit is generally no larger than an average-sized tissue box. It is designed to provide you with air at a slightly higher pressure while asleep. This decreases the chances that your throat will become constricted or even completely blocked. A device is comprised of the following elements:
- A base unit (containing the pump and the motor)
- Most devices come with an attached heated humidifier
- A flexible hose
- A mask that covers your mouth and nose
Note that technology has also led to some impressive advancements in recent times. These devices are extremely quiet, they can often be adjusted to suit personalized settings -- and many come equipped with additional amenities such as a built-in humidifier.
Are There Any Alternatives When Treating Mild Sleep Apnea Symptoms?
Once again, the severity of your illness will ultimately be used to determine if a CPAP is required. If your symptoms are extremely mild in nature, a handful of other options could prove useful. Some of the most potent involve specific lifestyle changes such as giving up smoking, abstaining from alcohol and developing a regular sleep pattern.
You could instead opt for oral appliances. These overnight "mouthguards'' are intended to slightly change the alignment of your jaw so that your airways remain open. Such accessories can also be chosen in the event that you are unable to become accustomed to the use of a PAP mask.
A final option involves learning to sleep on your side or stomach as opposed to your back. This can help to prevent disturbances caused by breathing issues. Certain pillows and cushions promote side sleeping without sacrificing comfort.
Do I Need a CPAP? Using Technology to Your Advantage
You should base the answer to this question upon professional medical advice as well as how severe your symptoms have become. However, even those who are suffering from relatively minor forms of sleep apnea will normally experience a pronounced improvement in their condition.
If you wish to learn more, make it a point to schedule a consultation with your doctor or a trained sleep specialist. Relief is closer than you may have been led to believe!