As sleep apnea becomes more commonly known, it’s not surprising that it receives greater news coverage. This is generally a positive thing: the more people who are aware of sleep apnea, the more people who can get treatment for this potentially deadly condition.
One provocative piece that surfaced recently on the Kaiser Health News site tells the story of one man who claims to have found “a simple, no-cost solution” to his severe sleep apnea.
It’s important to take this story for what it is: one man’s story.
Kaiser Health News is a reasonably respectable outlet for health news. It’s sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation but isn’t an official publication related to Kaiser Permanente, the large HMO that operates in Colorado and many other states. This isn’t a place that publishes well-researched science; it’s a place that publishes provocative thought pieces intended to foster conversation about important issues in healthcare today. So let’s have a discussion about this man’s experience and what you can learn from it, and what you should look at skeptically.
The Story of the “No-Cost Solution” in Brief
We’re providing a TL;DR summary in case you don’t want to read the man’s entire story. Jay Hancock, a journalist, got a home sleep test after experiencing daytime sleepiness and snoring. The sleep test showed he had moderate sleep apnea, and his doctor recommended CPAP.
During titration of the CPAP machine, researchers found evidence that he might have central sleep apnea, which would require even more expensive treatment with an ASV machine.
Not liking the prospect of this new treatment option, Hancock did his own research and determined that sleeping on his side cut the severity of his sleep apnea by more than half. It was now mild enough that he didn’t necessarily need treatment, and his daytime sleepiness resolved.
Lesson 1: Sleep Tests Aren’t Always Accurate
Perhaps the most important takeaway from this man’s story is that sleep tests, like other medical tests, aren’t 100% accurate. If you get results that don’t reflect your personal experience and before agreeing to a costly or invasive medical treatment, seek a second opinion. Get another test or find someone else to reinterpret the results of your test.
Denver sleep dentist Dr. Kevin Berry has extensive connections with Front Range sleep doctors. If you need a referral for a second opinion, he can help you find someone to give you perspective on your situation.
Lesson 2: CPAP Isn’t the Only Solution
One of the things Hancock felt about his situation was that he was being forced into a treatment that he didn’t like. Many people feel this way after a sleep apnea diagnosis. Some sleep doctors aggressively push CPAP as if it were the only treatment option for your sleep apnea. However, in many cases, it’s not the only approach that will be effective for your sleep apnea.
Oral appliance therapy is an effective front-line treatment for mild to moderate sleep apnea. Even people with severe sleep apnea can sometimes get great results from oral appliance therapy, especially in combination with lifestyle changes (such as positional therapy).
If you feel like you’re being pressured into CPAP treatment, Denver sleep dentist Dr. Kevin Berry can help you understand your options so that you will know why CPAP might be the best treatment for you–or why it might not.
Lesson 3: Find a Treatment That Works for You
Another important lesson to take away from Hancock’s story is that it’s important to find a sleep apnea treatment that will work for you. This is a treatment that will give you effective results. It’s also a treatment that you will use. For many people, CPAP is an effective treatment, but not everyone adapts to it properly.
Especially people with few sleep apnea symptoms find it’s a poor tradeoff between the hassle of CPAP and its benefits. (Hancock mentions only one symptom.) If your sleep apnea symptoms aren’t very severe, you might want to look for a less invasive treatment option.
It’s also worth noting that positional therapy doesn’t work for everyone. If you look at Hancock’s picture, you see that he is a relatively slender man who probably maintains a reasonably active lifestyle. It’s easy to believe that his sleep apnea is of a type that responds well to positional therapy. Many people won’t see similar results.
Denver sleep dentist Dr. Kevin Berry can evaluate your anatomy and help you understand whether an oral appliance and/or positional therapy might be effective for your sleep apnea.
Lesson 4: Sleep Apnea Is Underdiagnosed, Not Overdiagnosed
This is where we have to take some exceptions to Hancock’s narrative. Hancock implies that doctors are diagnosing sleep apnea will-nilly, including where treatment might not be necessary.
However, the truth is that sleep apnea remains underdiagnosed. In the past, perhaps 90% of people with sleep apnea were undiagnosed. Recent efforts may have cut that down to 80% or less, but the majority of people with serious sleep apnea remain undiagnosed. How do we know? Studies of people seeking treatment for serious cardiovascular conditions reveal not only that moderate to severe sleep apnea significantly increases cardiovascular risks, but it’s also frequently undiagnosed.
Denver sleep dentist Dr. Kevin Berry can help you determine if undiagnosed sleep apnea might be behind some of your symptoms, such as daytime sleepiness and high blood pressure.
Lesson 5: Sleep Apnea Is a Serious Condition That Needs Professional Care
Another important caveat we have to add to Hancock’s account is that sleep apnea is serious and needs professional attention. Hancock’s implication that people can and should just simply sleep on their sides is a dangerous misrepresentation. People with high blood pressure should be screened for sleep apnea (especially if their hypertension isn’t responding to medication).
People who don’t get tested for sleep apnea, don’t use their sleep apnea treatment, or who try to treat their sleep apnea on their own are at elevated risk for many dangerous conditions, with the combined effect that they may be five or six times more likely to die of numerous potential causes.
Denver sleep dentist Dr. Kevin Berry can help you understand how severe your sleep apnea might be and what treatment options are appropriate. You will have control over your treatment and can find a treatment option that is effective and comfortable for you.
Sleep Apnea Diagnosis and Treatment in Denver
If you are not sure how to proceed with sleep apnea treatment, let Denver sleep dentist Dr. Kevin Berry help. Whether you are in need of a sleep test, are looking for a second opinion, or want to understand your treatment options, he can provide you with an experienced outside perspective.
Please call (303) 691-0267 or use our online form to schedule an appointment at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado, serving the Denver Metro Area from our location near the intersection of I-25 and Colorado Blvd.