(Fairview AB Canada)
A Long Journey Before Successful Sleep Apnea Treatment
I was in my late teens or so when I discovered I had a severe snoring issue — my friends told me about it — I admit I was living a very unhealthy lifestyle — excessive drinking, eating, partying, etc. but by my mid-twenties when I was married that all tapered off.
My wife at the time was always disturbed by my snoring because she could not sleep, I found that I would get tired more easily at times but did not associate that issue with snoring. Ten years later and the marriage was over, snoring and fatigue were worse partly because of the stress.
By that time I could not drive anywhere for more than 30 minutes or I needed a nap, basically during the day whenever I stopped moving or sat down I would fall asleep. Sleeping at night was always a struggle to get air no matter what position I slept in, I would wake up just exhausted. My dentist fitted a mouthpiece which repositions the jaw while sleeping, but that did nothing for me at all.
That was in the mid-90s and I watched a news report on TV one day that explained what sleep disorders were and immediately related to my own struggle. At that time they referenced an ear, nose, and throat specialist in Edmonton offering laser surgery to remove the uvula and increase air volume while breathing (similar to Uvulopharyngopalatoplasty). This was a two-part procedure where the Uvula was first removed then after a healing period of months or a year would be repeated to remove extra tissue.
During the first few minutes of the procedure, which was performed with a local anesthetic while I was totally alert I immediately noticed my breathing was easier. The procedure was quite uncomfortable and at a certain point, he had to stop. That is why there was a two-part surgery. The recovery was very difficult because of pain and inflammation and it took about three weeks before I had some level of relief even with prescribed painkillers and antiseptic mouthwash. Eventually, a huge improvement in my sleep was noted and my snoring disappeared. I felt very much alive and alert and generally well. In time, I returned for the second stage of treatment and suffered through the recovery in the same way again but noted a further improvement.
For the next ten years I was exercising regularly and was generally in very good physical condition, but after getting married again my priorities changed and I gained some weight. That and reaching about 45 years old seemed to hit me at the same time and my snoring eventually returned as severe or more than ever. Blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels all were elevated and my doctor initiated tests to diagnose root causes. I had various blood tests, a heart ultrasound, then visited a heart and lung specialist for a lung capacity test, then took the CPAP system test machine home for evaluation. I should also say that I tried the head strap available which holds your mouth closed while sleeping, but it did absolutely nothing for me. My wife, of course, had a difficult time sleeping because of the noise and worrying that I might stop breathing altogether.
The results revealed that I was having more than one obstruction per minute and my blood oxygen was dropping to less than 60% multiple times per night. My doctor explained that it was known for people to die in their sleep as a result. The respiratory center rep was amazed at the data and used my results to explain worst-case scenarios to other patients.
I was next sent to the sleep lab in Edmonton for further evaluation and even after only sleeping with the CPAP test machine for 5 hours I felt reinvigorated. When I received my machine from our local respiratory center I was given two masks to try — the nasal mask and a full mask. I did not like the nasal mask because I am a mouth breather and my nose felt dried out in the morning. Also, if my mouth fell open while sleeping the air rushing down my throat sounded like a jet plane. So for me, the full mask was the answer.
Getting used to the mask was the next hurdle and difficulties are common with people because the mask is not natural for the human body. I fought with the mask for two months before I could sleep a full 7 or 8 hours, but I persevered because I was determined to gain the benefits. I have met many people who gave up because they could not get used to the mask. My wife also had more sleepless nights because I was absolutely quiet sleeping and that frightened her after years of noise.
After some months I noticed that I was gasping with the mask on and realized that my lung capacity had improved and I needed more pressure to sleep comfortably. The respiratory center advised that another sleep test would have to be performed before adjustments to air pressure could be done, which I did not agree with even though that is normal procedure. After some Google searches, I found the secret handshake that CPAP machines have to adjust pressures which I studied carefully and bumped my pressure up until I slept comfortably again with no ill effects.
I have had my machine for over 5 years now and eventually stopped taking my blood pressure and cholesterol meds as my levels and blood sugar dropped to normal. I should say that my sleep apnea condition has a genetic factor as my father suffered from the same symptoms for years also but I could not convince him to be diagnosed and treated as he thought he was used to it and was not motivated to address the problem. I know several people who claim genetic factors in the issue, a coworker who is 20 years old and not overweight who has recently been diagnosed — his father has had a CPAP machine for some time.
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