Obstructive sleep apnea symptoms include excessive sleepiness during the day.

I well remember the day I cycled home with my new Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) device because I tangled with a pedestrian and ended up in Emergency getting stitches in my forehead. Ouch.

So my first week as a CPAP-user was all strap and tape and bandages on a very swollen face. Add in my retainer and ear plugs, and I was a trussed-up plastic disaster. But the stitches came out and the swelling went down. And soon, I was on the road to good health—and a better night’s sleep.

People with obstructive sleep apnea can stop breathing dozens or hundreds of times each night, resulting in oxygen and sleep deprivation.

It all started with my partner, Tim, complaining about how I would stop breathing during the night, a condition called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). He would lie there and wait until I started up again, sometimes counting the seconds between breaths. Being a health-care professional, he was busy triaging away in the back of his mind, thinking that perhaps my high blood pressure was caused partly by OSA.

Off to the sleep clinic I went for an overnight covered in gooey electrodes and wreathed in wires. At my return visit a week or so later during regular business hours, the doctor reported that I had stopped breathing 12 times—per hour! Horrified, I made a vow to correct the situation by joining the ranks of thousands of Canadians on CPAP therapy.

OSA Affects about 30 percent of Canadians, though many go undiagnosed

According to the Canadian Sleep Society, OSA affects about 30 percent of Canadians, though many go undiagnosed. Kaleena Robinet, a clinical sleep educator with CPAP Direct in Toronto, says the list of signs and symptoms is both large and varied. It includes:

  • Snoring
  • Excessive sleepiness during the day leading to difficulty with focus and concentration
  • Waking up in the middle of the night short of breath
  • Breathing cessation throughout the night
  • Dry mouth and sore throat in the morning
  • Chest pain or headaches in the morning
  • Mood instability, depression, anxiety, irritability
  • Insomnia, problems staying asleep, restless sleep
  • High blood pressure

Sleep apnea patients are at a 30 percent higher risk of heart attack and heart-related death than those without the condition.

“Keep in mind, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea,” Robinet says. “Usually three or four of these symptoms should be present before investigating further if OSA is the culprit.” She adds that one of the most serious concerns of untreated OSA is cardiovascular disease: “According to the American Sleep Association, sleep apnea patients are at a 30 percent higher risk of heart attack and heart-related death than those without the condition. Increased pulmonary pressures to the right side of the heart, a major concern in prolonged cases of OSA, can result in an abnormal enlargement of the heart, a serious form of congestive heart failure.”

The Philips DreamWear nasal mask covers the nose and upper lip. Your healthcare professional will help determine the right mask.

I adapted quickly to the “nasal pillows” and head strap, not having severe enough apnea to warrant a full mask. I learned to share my pillow with a plastic hose, which often gets tangled around my head—or itself—but never seems to bother me or wake me up. Being a life-long drooler, I still seem to miraculously be able to drool with my mouth closed. Because the second my mouth pops open, air bursts out and into the room like my head has sprung a leak. That can wake me up, for sure. Within a few weeks, I felt like I had more energy, more zip. I also experienced clearer breathing passages—and far less complaining from Tim.

Weirdly, I have two close friends who also suffer from sleep apnea far worse than I do, yet they haven’t embraced the therapy. I hope this is not a problem for them down the line, but I don’t criticize or judge. All I can do is encourage.

The Philips DreamWear full face mask is an option for those who breathe through their mouths.

Well, maybe I judge a little, but I’m far from perfect in my own treatment. I sometimes drink one whiskey too many and the CPAP machine has to work harder to keep my breathing steady all night. Ditto any time I reach for even half a sleeping pill. I’ve woken up more than a few times with my mask resting quietly on the floor and not on my face. And every once in a while, my nasal tissue rebels and gets a bit sensitive, but this is always short-lived. We all have our good days and bad.

Now if I can get the strap marks to dissolve from my face before noon, I’ll be laughing.

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If you’re new to CPAP life…

Where to buy: Your sleep doctor will hook you up with a prescription, which the equipment provider will need before they can fill your order. The doctor’s office will also be able to suggest several local places to purchase your machine. TIP: Buying in person helps you get the best fit and the best advice, rather than purchasing online.

Price range: From $700 to $1200, depending on comfort factors, i.e. fancy humification, climate control, automation, tech features, etc. Your insurance company may kick in money toward your purchase.

Top brands: ResMed, Philips Respironics, Fisher & Paykel, KEGO

Masks: Masks vary in shape, size and design depending on the brand and on whether you need a full-face mask or a nasal mask.

ResMed’s AirMini is ideal on the go.

Go anywhere: Less cumbersome travel versions are surprisingly efficient, compact and comfortable, though they cost a bit more.

 

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