Sleep apnea doesn't just disturb sleep; it affects one's health in various ways. But take heart; there are ways to deal with it. AARTHI DHAR
T hings were going just fine for Rajeev Chopra, a Delhi-based chartered accountant, except that he could not figure out why he woke up several times in the night feeling suffocated.
He would rush to the window for fresh air, and was normal in just a while. Not knowing he was suffering a disease, Rajeev learnt to live with this disturbed sleep and loud snoring, and an occasional tiff with his wife who often suspected him of having too much to drink!
Eventually on the afternoon of January 1, 1998, Rajeev was told he was suffering from sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterised by abnormal pauses in breathing or abnormally low breathing during sleep. Each pause between breathing is called apnea, which can last from a few seconds to minutes, and can occur 5-30 times in an hour or more.
Rajeev was sleeping on a couch in his drawing room when his younger brother, a doctor, walked in and suspected sleep apnea. Rajeev underwent an overnight sleep test – polysomnogram – at a hospital that confirmed the diagnosis.
There are three types of sleep apnea and snoring is common to all. The condition can remain undetected for years during which the individual learns to live with sleepiness and fatigue during the day as a result of disturbed night sleep.
The blocked airways due to collapsing of muscles during sleep results in shortage of oxygen to the body and brain. In the most severe case it can lead to a heart failure, often associated with a silent heart attack. The threat of obstructive sleep apnea increases with obesity and diabetes.
Rajeev has been using Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy devices since then. “It has made my life absolutely normal. I use it in the night. I breathe easy and it helps me relax during the day,'' he said.
The device – similar to a mask - is manufactured by several companies in India and abroad but continues to be priced high putting it out of reach for an ordinary person.
“I would say sleep apnea is a rich man's disease because the device is so expensive. I sincerely feel the government should so something to bring down the price of the device so that even the poor can buy it,” he said. The life of the device is around 3-5 years and the third one, which Rajeev is using, cost him Rs 60,000.
Medical studies show that effects of sleep apnea may range from annoying to life-threatening. It can lead to heart failure while other problems include high blood pressure, irritability, sexual dysfunction, learning and memory problems and falling asleep at work or while driving.
Untreated sleep apnea can also take an emotional toll. Depression and feelings of despair are common. This can affect an otherwise healthy person's ability to deal with stressful situations, which has an overall impact on a person's overall ability to cope with life.