Snoring isn’t funny anymore. In fact, consider it a warning sign, said Donna Hartman, the former coordinator at the Rockford Health System sleep center. It’s one of the symptoms of sleep apnea, and its diagnosis is on the rise in the U.S.
Snoring isn’t funny anymore.
In fact, consider it a warning sign, said Donna Hartman, the former coordinator at the Rockford Health System sleep center.
It’s one of the symptoms of sleep apnea, and its diagnosis is on the rise in the U.S.
The condition affects millions of adults in the U.S. — people who stop breathing repeatedly during sleep, sometimes hundreds of times a night and often for a minute or longer.
And increased awareness is driving business to Rockford’s sleep disorders centers, three of 1,476 such centers in the U.S., up from just 417 in 1998.
“It’s at epidemic proportions,” said Hartman, who now counsels sleep apnea patients at Integrated Home Care Services. “The sleep laboratories at the hospitals have waiting lists for people to come in for overnight sleep studies.”
Hartman, like many others in the industry, isn’t surprised at the growth because sleep disorders have only been recognized as an independent medical specialty for about the past five years and “people are becoming more and more aware of this as a problem.”
Dr. Jonathan O’Neil, a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist with Rockford Health System, said patient and physician awareness have played major parts in the increased diagnoses of sleep apnea “and, just as the population becomes older and more obese, it becomes more prevalent.”
SwedishAmerican Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center performed about 1,200 studies in 2007, supervisor Megan Nimmers said, and 42 percent of those patients were diagnosed with sleep apnea. Sandra Denny, sleep center coordinator at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center, said the center had 650 patients in 2007.
Annette Moser, Rockford Health System’s manager for respiratory care and neurophysiology, said the hospital’s sleep center saw 1,080 patients in 2006 and 1,263 in 2007. “We’re right on target to see that many again this year,” she said.
All three centers require a referral from a physician.
Michael J. Twery, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, said as many as 18 million Americans may have sleep apnea “but some emerging epidemiological findings suggest that as many as one in three (people) may have as many as two symptoms of sleep disturbance — such as excessive snoring or waking up with a morning headache.”
He said the increase in the number of sleep centers nationwide accounts for some of the increase in treating sleep apnea.
“It’s quite possible, too, that it’s becoming a more serious condition, but we don’t really have the data on that part of the story.”
Rockford’s O’Neil also said studies have shown that untreated sleep apnea can lead to serious health issues such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and increased risk for stroke.
According to Kerry Lindquist, a certified polysomnographic technician at the OSF Saint Anthony Sleep Disorders Center, the most common treatment is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, a mask which splints the airway open and gently blows air into the patient’s nose.
“Sleep apnea, by definition, is cessation of breathing while you are sleeping,” Lindquist said. “As the patient sleeps, the airway gets floppy just as the rest of our muscles do and it collapses. It’s not oxygen, it’s just pressure.”
A doctor will write a prescription when treatment with a CPAP device is warranted. The patient then can choose from a number of machines and mask styles that cost between $200 and $1,500.
Medicare and most insurance plans pay 80 percent of the cost, said Debbie Earnest, Integrated Home Care respiratory manager. “The patient usually pays the other 20 percent, but it depends on the plan’s coverage.”
Lindquist said a CPAP device is meant to be worn for the rest of the patient’s life, but Twery said research shows many people don’t stick to CPAP therapy “because breathing with a machine just isn’t natural.
“But, when you’re talking about CPAP, which is probably the most convenient approach to treatment, the choice is to sleep or to suffocate. When you put it that way, CPAP becomes a little less annoying.”
Mike DeDoncker can be reached at (815) 987-1382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fast facts about sleep apnea
More than 12 million American adults are estimated have obstructive sleep apnea, the most common diagnosis. More than half of them are overweight.
Sleep apnea is more common in men. One out of 25 middle-aged men and 1 out of 50 middle-aged women have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea becomes more common as you get older. At least 1 out of 10 people older than 65 has sleep apnea. Women are much more likely to develop sleep apnea after menopause.
African-Americans, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders are more likely to develop sleep apnea than Caucasians.
If someone in your family has sleep apnea, you’re more likely to develop it.
People who have small airways in their noses, throats or mouths also are more likely to have sleep apnea. Smaller airways may be because of the shape of these structures or allergies or other medical conditions that cause congestion in these areas.
Small children often have enlarged tonsil tissues in the throat. This can make them prone to developing sleep apnea.
Other risk factors for sleep apnea include smoking, high blood pressure and risk factors for stroke or heart failure.
Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which patients has one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while they sleep.
Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes. They often occur five to 30 times or more an hour. Then normal breathing starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound.
Sleep apnea usually is a chronic condition that disrupts sleep three or more nights each week. Patients often move out of deep sleep and into light sleep when their breathing pauses or becomes shallow.
This results in poor sleep quality that makes them tired during the day. Sleep apnea is one of the leading causes of excessive daytime sleepiness.
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. This most often means that the airway has collapsed or is blocked during sleep. The blockage may cause shallow breathing or breathing pauses.
Any air that squeezes past the blockage can cause loud snoring.