Monday, July 9, 2012

Sleep Apnea Is A Serious Health Threat

This self-medication chair sleep position would not be a good cure for sleep apnea.

(I’ve been asked to write on my experience with sleep apnea. I figured I had sleep apnea, but totally ignored it for several years. I hope my experience with certain issues may help others find out if they have the same problems.)
It’s been estimated that up to 70% of people have sleep apnea. If you snore, chances are you are one of them.
I’ve been sleeping as an astronaut for the past 84 months. I wear what looks like a pilot’s mask with a hose running to a machine that forces air under pressure through my nose and down my throat to keep my tongue from blocking the airway.

I sometimes grind my teeth so I also wear (sometimes) a mouthpiece like a boxer so I don’t grind my teeth down to stubs. Before I had the mask, I would spit the mouthpiece each night and find it on the floor, across the room, or stuck in my hair. I no longer wear the mouthpiece and the teeth grinding has slack off, I guess.

I go to bed each night feeling like some nut on a psycho ward. It’s really not all that bad except for cleaning the mask daily because I don’t put it on until the last moments before we’re going to sleep. What I hate is the knowledge that I have to wear it because I will probably never sleep normal again. Sometimes, I do a count down from ten like I’m being launched into space or say something like, "I can see our house from up here."

The mask is probably saving my life.

Before Vietnam, I could sleep for eight hours without a problem. I remember people telling me I made noise sometimes, but I slept so sound that people used to stand me up and dance with me and I wouldn’t wake up.

After the war, I slept two hours at a time and often had nightmares about being back in the war. Often the nightmares were in real time. I kept saying in the dream that I wasn’t ready for another tour. When this is added to the condition where my tongue would slip back and block my airway, I wasn’t sleeping at all. Well, I did sleep, sitting up for ten or twenty minutes at a time.

The first time I was tested for sleep apnea, I found out that I held my breath 24 times an hour and my heart slowed to 39 beats per minute at least twice. I could have died in my sleep due to the slow heart beat.

After the mask was in place, I held my breath five times, which is considered normal. Plus, I no longer made a bunch of animal noises. I had this test done at a private clinic because I have other hospital insurance. I did have an appointment at the VA to be tested, but it was over a year wait, and when the time came I was out of town and missed it. Plus, who wants to wait a year to be tested for something that could kill you while you sleep.

There are drawbacks. I’ve never slept on my back. The best way to sleep with the C-pap machine is on your back. I can do it now but I had trouble adjusting, and sometimes I still sleep on my side.

It plays hell with your sinuses. I’ve pretty much had messed up sinuses ever since I’ve been using the machine. Sometimes, I sneeze all day and my nose runs.

If you travel, you need to drag the thing along. Plus, you need to clean the mask and hose daily with soap and water. I usually clean mine right before bed.

Plus, the whole setup costs about 2,000. So if you’re 50% or above get it from the VA if you don’t have outside insurance.

I do sleep better, deeper and a few hours longer, about 5 or 6 hours a night, compared to my usual 3 hours, but it really is a pain in the butt.

There are alternatives

The doctor told me I have sleep apnea because my tongue relaxes and slips back to cover my airway. He said they could operate on me, split my jawbone in the center of my chin, take a piece out, and force my jaw back together. I guess it could be like a facelift and pull all the sag out of your jaw if it sags.

This in not only major surgery, it will also change your appearance and probably make your chin pointed. It is also not guaranteed to work and could be a waste of time because the tongue may still slip.

"I’m not crazy about my face right now," I told the doctor. "But I’m used to it and I don’t want to look like a ferret."

I’ve also heard they have some kind of tubes like Dixie straws that they embed in the roof of your mouth to stop snoring or breath holding. I don’t think I could stand having straws stuck into the roof of my mouth.

I believe they should come up with a kind of boxer’s mouthpiece that will hold your tongue in place so it doesn’t relax backwards.

Sleep Apnea is serious. It can cause high blood pressure because the heart is without oxygen each time you hold your breath during sleep. This can lead to an enlarged heart and congestive heart failure.

By the way, my condition, holding my breath 24 times an hour, is considered to be mild sleep apnea. Some people hold their breath 50 and 100 times an hour. Some people also have to take oxygen at the same time.

I suggest that if you snore, have the sleep apnea test just to make sure you aren’t holding your breath.

Dennis Latham Books to make you laugh, curse, or go madd-d-d.

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