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Sleep Apnea Myths and Misconceptions

Sleep apnea is a common medical condition that responds well to therapeutic interventions, like continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Despite these facts, most people affected by sleep apnea are either undiagnosed or don’t seek treatment. Many patients aren’t aware of the issue because the signs of sleep apnea, like loud snoring and disordered breathing patterns, primarily occur after the patient has fallen asleep (read more about the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea in our Sleep Apnea Facts article). Unfortunately, another barrier between sleep apnea patients and effective treatment is ignorance or misinformation. Popular misconceptions about sleep apnea and CPAP therapy can make people mistakenly believe they aren’t a potential patient, or simply discourage them from seeking the treatment they deserve. So it’s time to set the record straight on some of the most common myths and misconceptions about sleep apnea.

Myth #1: Only Obese or Overweight People Have Sleep Apnea

Contrary to popular belief, sleep apnea isn’t exclusive to obese and overweight populations. People of regular or below-average weight regularly suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Age, not weight, is likely the biggest contributing factor in developing OSA. Most sleep apnea patients are diagnosed in middle-age when a natural loss in muscle tone can contribute to the airway collapse that causes the obstruction in OSA. The airway obstruction could also be caused by narrow nasal passages or other sinus-related issues not related to body weight. There is, however, an association between obesity and sleep apnea. Obesity is a recognized risk factor for OSA, and an increase in body weight often correlates with an escalation of symptom severity. There is also growing evidence that the sleep deprivation caused by sleep disorders, including OSA, contributes to weight gain.

Myth #2: Only Men Get Sleep Apnea

The prevalence of clinically significant sleep apnea in the adult population is estimated at between 10–25%. Men are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea at higher rates, however, the condition affects men and women of all ages at similar rates (children are affected as well). In post-menopausal women, the incidence of sleep apnea is only slightly less than men of the same age and BMI. Sleep apnea does often present differently in men and women, with men experiencing snoring and excessive sleepiness, while women more commonly present with insomnia-like symptoms. While the symptoms may vary, the fact is women do experience sleep apnea at significant rates, they simply go undiagnosed at much higher rates than men.

Myth #3: Getting Diagnosed Requires Overnight Testing in a Hospital or Sleep Lab

People don’t like going to the doctor, much less a hospital, so it’s not surprising that some potential patients drag their feet getting diagnosed and treated for sleep apnea. Part of the apprehension is the knowledge that they will have to get a sleep study. Once upon a time, these overnight studies occurred exclusively in a hospital setting, but the majority now take place at home or in an outpatient sleep clinic. The notion of getting hooked up to a bunch of wires and machines, while some stranger watches you sleep… Sure, it’s not the best night of your life, but most patients discover the sleep study isn’t as bad they expected. On the contrary, for some patients the first CPAP sleep study can be life-changing, as they finally experience a full night of the restful, restorative sleep they’ve been missing for years.

Now, the majority of patients suspected of having OSA don’t even undergo a traditional full sleep study. Instead, they now take a Home Sleep Test. So if fears about the sleep study are holding you back from addressing your snoring or poor sleep, stop worrying and go get the medical treatment you deserve.

Myth #4: CPAP Machines Are Big and Loud

Here is another popular misconception that is thankfully fading away as CPAP therapy becomes more mainstream. In the distant past, early CPAP machines were rather large and quite loud. CPAP therapy itself was a relatively rare treatment option, not gaining widespread acceptance until the past couple decades. If CPAP was recognized at all by the public in the ‘80s or ‘90s, it was perceived as an odd phenomenon. That perception has changed dramatically in recent years. While most people know or have heard of someone who has a CPAP machine, chances are they haven’t seen them using it. If they did, they’d be surprised by how small and quiet CPAP machines have become. Modern CPAP machines are quiet, compact and efficient. They are also convenient enough to make travel with the CPAP easily managed.

Myth #5: CPAP Masks Are Claustrophobic and Uncomfortable

Worries about CPAP masks making sleepers claustrophobic is a legitimate concern. That being said, this fear is likely exaggerated by outdated perceptions (much like the aforementioned misgivings about CPAP machines being gigantic and loud). Some people might envision wearing their CPAP mask as a Darth Vader-like experience, completely covering their face and a loud “Hooo-paahh, Hooo-paahh” sound accompanying every breath. Not so!

The fact is modern CPAP mask designs are far more comfortable and quiet than their early predecessors. Patients now have a wide variety of mask styles to choose from. While some patients will still struggle to find a full face mask comfortable, there are so many options now available that viable solution is almost certain to be found. Most patients can utilize a less restrictive nasal mask or lightweight nasal pillows design. And the good news is that CPAP masks continue to evolve and improve, with innovative hybrid designs like the Philips Respironics DreamWear, Resmed P10 series or the F&P Eson masks. These are all very popular and highly-rated model for Sleep Direct customers.

Myth #6: CPAP Therapy Is Too Expensive

Some patients may put off CPAP therapy for their sleep apnea due to cost concerns. While it’s true that CPAP therapy does incur some cost to the patient in term of time and money, those expenses are significantly defrayed by insurance. The majority of insurance plans cover CPAP therapy, as well as the clinical costs for diagnosis and consultation with your medical provider. Many private insurers will also reimburse your ongoing treatment expenses for parts and supplies, like replacement CPAP masks, hoses and filters. (For more detailed information on this subject read Health Insurance Coverage & Reimbursement for CPAP Therapy.)

The key to minimizing your CPAP therapy expenses is understanding what exactly your insurance plan benefits cover, as well as the proper procedures for authorization and reimbursement. Patients can also save a significant amount of money by purchasing their CPAP equipment online at Sleep Direct, where we offer substantial discounts on most products, including popular top-selling CPAP machines and masks. Don’t let concerns about CPAP costs keep you from getting the therapy you deserve, the benefits of CPAP therapy will be worth the effort.

Myth #7: CPAP Therapy Kills Your Sex Life

Worries about CPAP therapy intruding on sex and intimacy is an understandable concern. The good news is that for most patients CPAP therapy doesn’t kill their sex life; instead, it has the opposite effect! Often it’s only when people started experiencing the benefits of CPAP therapy that they fully realize how negatively sleep apnea impacted their lives – including their sex life. Untreated sleep apnea is a common cause of erectile dysfunction and decreased sex drive. With appropriate therapy, these issues are significantly better.

Additionally, untreated sleep apnea is also a cause of stress for the partner of the patient. That partner may be dreading “what happens next” when the snoring starts and the breathing stops. Once people are asleep, no one is bothered by a CPAP mask. When everyone is breathing well, then the bedroom becomes a quiet and desirable place. So while CPAP therapy isn’t a guaranteed fix for ED or intimacy issues, it will likely help, not hinder, your bedroom pursuits!

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