Just because you snore, you don't necessarily have sleep apnea

Photo of a woman on a veranda (Jupiterimages / Photos.com) Christa, 59 years old

“About eight years ago I noticed that for some reason I always felt tired. Also, in the mornings, my throat felt dry, I often had a headache, and I found it hard to concentrate. I sometimes woke up at night gasping for air. I used to think that this was because I snored.”

About eight years ago I noticed that for some reason I always felt tired. Also, in the mornings, my throat felt dry, I often had a headache, and I found it hard to concentrate. I sometimes woke up at night gasping for air. I used to think that this was because I snored. Looking back I now realize that these were breathing pauses and I had to gasp for air. My partner at the time then also noticed that I used to stop breathing every now and then at night. I talked to my doctor about it and he referred me to an ear, nose and throat specialist.

This doctor first gave me a machine to take home in order to find out whether I was having breathing pauses at night and, if so, how many. The results were so clear that he referred me to a sleep laboratory. I spent two nights there. Apparently I had about 100 breathing pauses at night. They recommended using a breathing therapy machine, which I tried the second night.

At the beginning it was quite difficult. I had to get used to sleeping with the machine. It felt strange to have something on my head. I couldn’t move around in bed the way I used to. But the doctors saw that I didn’t have any breathing pauses when I used the machine. So it was clear to me that I had to get used to it.

At first I did find it very difficult indeed. The mask would sometimes slip off when I turned around so that it lost its seal and made whistling noises. Sometimes I took off the mask after a short time, but then I felt awful in the morning.

I was also checked at a dental clinic to find out whether a mandibular splint could help me. But it wasn’t possible because I wear dentures.

I was very unwell several months later because I was having cancer treatment, so I didn’t use the machine during that time. After the treatment I went to the sleep laboratory again. I had lost a lot of weight and they wanted to see whether the machine was still necessary and, if so, what the best level to adjust it to would be. From then on I used it very regularly. And over time I got used to it, too. In fact, I’ve even gotten so used to it that I can’t sleep without it anymore. I take the machine everywhere, even on vacation or to the hospital.

When I’ve spent the night with a breathing therapy machine, I feel a lot better the next day. My morning headaches have improved a lot and I’m not so tired anymore since I’ve been using the machine. Sometimes I don’t use it if I have a bad cold. But the next day I feel very tired and exhausted again, and often have a headache.

It’s part of my life. But you also need a partner who accepts that the person lying next to him is wearing a mask. That’s very important.

If you do it properly, it’s quite a lot of work to clean and maintain the machine. My machine has a humidifier and I change the water every day. I clean the machine thoroughly once a week. Our water is very hard and often leaves some limescale. I also clean the mask cushion every day, and the tube twice a week. That sounds like quite a lot of hassle, but it has now become a routine. When I get up, I take the things straight into the bathroom with me. It has become part of my daily routine.

It is important to me that my partner accepts my sleep apnea and living with a breathing therapy machine. I am sure this is not always easy, but it is very important. And thankfully the machines you get today are very quiet and can hardly be heard.

I think it’s very important to make sure you see a doctor if you think you might have sleep apnea. For example if you snore and are very tired for a longer period of time and have difficulties concentrating at the same time, and maybe a headache in the morning, too. But it is important to know that just because you snore, you don't necessarily have sleep apnea! And I also think it’s important, if you do end up needing a breathing therapy machine, not to be discouraged by the difficulties you might have at first. If you keep on using it you’ll see that you get more practice, and that using the machine gets easier from day to day.

 

Acknowledgement

Our real-life stories summarize interviews with people who are affected by the medical condition. Our interview partners have given us permission to publish their stories. We would like to express our sincere thanks to them.

The real-life stories give an insight into how other people cope and live with a medical condition. Their opinions and comments are not recommendations by IQWiG.

Please note: The names of our interview partners have been changed to protect their identity. The photos are of models.

Labels: Airways and respiratory system, G47.3, Head and nerves, Obstructive sleep apnea, OSA