COPD and Sleep Apnea
Last updated: October 2019
You have been diagnosed with COPD, which is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. This is a disease of the lungs that causes obstructed airflow. COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States.1 Falling under the COPD diagnosis can be emphysema, chronic bronchitis and even alpha-1 antitrypsin, which is the genetic form of COPD.
What is sleep apnea?
Now, during the night, do you feel like you stop breathing? Do you snore? You might be waking up with headaches. After a night time sleep study, your doctor tells you that you stop or nearly stop breathing numerous times during the night and for minutes at a time. Your doctor tells you that you have Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
The combination of COPD and OSA is called Overlap Syndrome.
How can I treat it?
To aid in your breathing with OSA, you would use a C-Pap (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). With your C-Pap, you would wear a mask over your nose, or a full-face mask which covers your nose and mouth. While you sleep, compressed air blows from the C-Pap machine, through the nose to keep the airway open. Everyone is different, so different mask styles, mask sizes and pressure levels are important to give the best results. If you aren’t on oxygen, you might be tested to see if you need that as well.
Some people have difficulty adjusting to wearing a C-Pap mask. Some say it’s a frightening experience, some get claustrophobic. Thankfully I’m not claustrophobic. Adjusting to wearing a C-Pap was hard for me. I put it away for about 6 months. Finally, a doctor brought me a few masks to try and I finally found one I could tolerate. Since I’m a mouth breather, a full-face mask works best. My size was between a small and medium, the small worked best. It’s so nice to have the possibilities of finding the one that works. Then came the additional adjustments for the compressed air pressure. The doctor recommended setting changes a couple of times, when we found one that worked. My face and nose felt dry, the humidifier was added. You can adjust settings on the humidifier, to a setting that works best for you.
Back to the mask
I would put it on with the C-Pap turned off, then I didn’t have air to breathe. At times I would put it on with the power turned on and felt like I was being blown away. With my C-Pap supplier, we made sure that the settings were as the doctor prescribed. At night or when I slept, I wore the mask as long as I could tolerate, and each night I Used the C-Pap longer and longer. To help adjust I also wore it sitting up and watching TV, then my focus was on something besides just wearing that mask. That is not recommended as bedtime should be bedtime, not TV time. I found that when I used it, I didn’t have the headaches. I sleep better, and my pulmonary hypertension improved as well. I don’t sleep as well if I’m not using my C-Pap, I doze and wake up, maybe catch myself snoring. Yes, some women may snore, I was reluctant, but finally admitted it to my husband.
Talk to your doctor
If you are struggling with your C-Pap, talk to your doctor or your C-Pap provider. Explain what you are going through. Try a different type of mask. Sleep Apnea can lead to heart problems and is very serious. It can cause death.
For the health of this overlap syndrome of COPD and Sleep Apnea, it’s very important that you talk to your doctor if you have any problems or concerns. If you haven't been diagnosed, but think you might have COPD or Sleep Apnea, do talk to your doctor and get tested. Your breathing is so very important, whether you are awake or asleep. Obesity factors in as well.
I hope you have a breathe-easy night and more.
Do you know the difference between a COPD exacerbation and lung function decline?
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