Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sleep Apnoea

Responding to Seb Schmoller.

I have sleep apnoea. The key to diagnosis isn't the tiredness - this can be caused by a wide number of things, including narcolepsy. It is the irregular heartbeat.

As you describe, people with sleep apnoea stop breathing hundreds of times during the night, depriving the brain of oxygen and waking them up. This causes strain on the heart and lungs as they labour to function without oxygen.

The major consequence of sleep apnoea isn't traffic accidents - though I don't downplay the seriousness of driving while sleepy. It is heart failure, caused by years of irregular heartbeats. People suffering from sleep apnoea simply drop dead in their sleep, never knowing what hit them.

The treatment for sleep apnoea can consist either of rmoving the obstruction through surgery (less common) or through forcing air into the lungs during sleep (more common). This requires the use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine during sleep.

Users wear a breathing mask which is attached to the CPAP. The machine monitors breathing patterns and increases air pressure if breathing slows.

The CPAP is expensive ($2000) and the masks ($200 per) are fragile. They are not covered under Canada health care and only partially covered by group health insurance. So they are a significant expense.

That said, they are worth every penny. I have suffered from sleep apnoea since I was young, but having a CPAP over the last four years or so has made a huge difference in my quality of life. I really notice it on those rare days when I don't use it or when I am having trouble with a mask (as I am now).

It means I have to take the CPAP with me when I travel, so I get to know airport security people very well. The machine is large (1 foot long) and too fragile (and important) for baggage, so it consumes most of my carry-on space. And hotels are stingy with power plug-ins, so setting it up on the road can require acrobatics.

Sleep apnoea doesn't define my life and it's just one of those things that people need (like glasses and dentistry) and sometimes cannot afford. I persnally believe that people who need such reatments should get them as a matter of course, provided by our health care system.