apnea worse.) Husbands complain too.
“Women can have sleep apnea, especially if
they are post-menopausal and not taking hormones, are pregnant in their last trimester or
have had a nose job,” says Joyce Walsleben,
associate professor of medicine at the New
York University School of Medicine, author of
A Woman’s Guide to Sleep (Three Rivers Press,
2001) and a Costco member. “But many
women don’t know they snore. Either they
sleep alone or their husbands don’t tell them.”
Either way, once you realize there is a
problem, it’s time to go see your primary-care physician. Tell him or her exactly what
your symptoms are and how you are feeling.
Ask to be referred to a sleep-disorder physician (if you can, choose one who is board
certified by the American Academy of Sleep
Medicine). A sleep study either in the lab or
at home (in-home testing was recently
approved by Medicare) can confirm the
diagnosis of sleep apnea.
Nasal strips decrease nasal airway resistance by a small degree, which is why some
athletes wear them. But if you wear them
and are still snoring, that’s a sign you may
have sleep apnea.
Once your diagnosis of sleep apnea is
confirmed, there are a number of options
For mild sleep apnea, a dental jaw
advancement appliance can help, says
Helene Emsellem, M.D, director of The
Center for Sleep & Wake Disorders in Chevy
Chase, Maryland, a spokesperson for the
National Sleep Foundation and a Costco
member. “It’s custom-made to the patient’s
mouth and pulls the lower jaw forward to
open the airway. This reduces the snoring
and the apnea.”
Changing body position can help to
some degree. “Some people have worse apnea
and snoring when they are lying on their
backs rather than on their side,” says Dr.
Emsellem. “So you may be able to avoid the
snoring problem if you [don’t] sleep on your
back.” The classic approach is to sew a tennis
ball into the back of a sleep shirt, which will
wake you up every time you roll over.
In some cases surgery can be effective—
for example, snoring can go away when children have their tonsils or adenoids taken out
(yes, kids snore) or if adults have redundant
tissue removed. “Everything gets saggy as we
get older, including the tissue in your throat,”
says Walsleben. “Fat that collects in the throat
and polyps in your nose also block the airway, making it more difficult to breathe.” In
general, though, surgery isn’t effective in
treating sleep apnea and is discouraged.
The best choice for most people is what
is known as the CPAP, or Continuous
Positive Airway Pressure, machine. “It’s
definitely the best form of therapy,” says
Miller. “It blows air at a set pressure into your
airway to splint it open.” This is helpful
because when you sleep, a different area of
your brain takes control of the smooth mus-
cle tissue in your airway.
Chrystle Fiedler writes about health topics for
many national publications.
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