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Archive for Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Woodling: Sleep apnea serious disease

December 28, 2004

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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Reconstruction of a tendon in a pitcher's elbow is called Tommy John surgery. One of the nation's most active cancer research funds is named after Jim Valvano.

When a condition, disease or ailment is linked with a sports figure, awareness always is heightened. Along those lines, I certainly hope sleep apnea some day will be referred to as Reggie White Condition. The more people who are aware of sleep apnea the better.

The preliminary autopsy report released Monday said sleep apnea may have been a factor in the death of White, a man regarded by many as the greatest defensive lineman ever to play football, at the age of 43. We know he was afflicted with the condition, and we know sleep apnea in some instances can kill.

I know because I was diagnosed with sleep apnea about three years ago. How long I had suffered from the condition I don't know. For many years, though, I couldn't understand why I could not keep my eyes open at times while driving, or why I would be sitting at my computer writing a column or a story and could not stay awake.

Just getting older, I rationalized. Guess I need to get more sleep at night. Little did I know I had been sleeping, but that I wasn't really asleep.

Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep that occurs when air cannot flow into or out of the person's nose or mouth although efforts to breathe continue.

They say those pauses may be as high as 20 to 60 or more per hour. And those pauses, as you may have guessed, are accompanied by snoring. Loud snoring. Very loud snoring.

Finally, when my snoring became so loud that my wife was wearing earplugs, I went to my doctor who suggested I take a sleep apnea test. A sleep what test? He explained the procedure, and soon thereafter I spent a night at Lawrence Memorial Hospital all wired up. The technician didn't need really need the printouts. She knew almost right away.

"You have," she said, "sleep apnea."

A few days later, I picked up a CPAP machine, learned how to use it and my life changed. Now I sleep through the night. I don't battle to stay awake when I'm driving. And I haven't needed toothpicks to prop my eyelids open at the office. Oh, and my wife threw away the earplugs.

CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. CPAP machine users wear a mask over their nose during sleep, and pressure from a blower forces air through the nasal passages, preventing the throat from collapsing during sleep.

The unit is small enough that sleep apnea sufferers can take their CPAP with them when they travel. Only once in the many times I've gone through airport security has my bag been searched because of CPAP suspicions, and the screener who red-flagged it admitted it was her first day on the job.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife's sister called to say she had undergone a sleep apnea test, and that she was stunned to find out the disorder was the reason she hadn't had a decent night's sleep seemingly forever and why she was always sleepy at work.

Welcome to the club, I told her. Most everyone who has sleep apnea wishes they had known about it sooner. Hopefully, Reggie White's shocking death will cause a run on sleep apnea test sites.

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