Pulmonary fibrosis is a chronic lung disease that makes it difficult for the lungs to function properly. Unfortunately, pulmonary fibrosis can occur alongside other health problems, such as sleep apnea. What is sleep apnea? How common is sleep apnea among pulmonary fibrosis patients? Why should you get tested? How can sleep apnea be treated? This article explores these questions
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during sleep occur more often than normal. Because the disorder disrupts normal sleep, people affected may experience sleepiness or feel tired during the day. If the pauses in breathing occur often or are long enough, oxygen levels can decrease, depriving the brain and organs of essential oxygen. Untreated sleep apnea can cause long-term damage to a person’s health. Some people with sleep apnea are unaware they have the condition.
Symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- pauses in breathing during sleep,
- excessive daytime sleepiness,
- morning headaches
How common is sleep apnea among pulmonary fibrosis patients?
About 30% of adults in the US above the age of 65 are believed to have sleep apnea. Research indicates that the rate of sleep apnea among pulmonary fibrosis patients is nearly twice as high as that – nearer 50 – 60%.
Sleep apnea can worsen the symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis, lowering oxygen levels in the blood and increasing fatigue. Talk to your healthcare provider about any symptoms of disturbed sleep you may be experiencing or that your partner has observed. Your doctor may recommend that you undergo a sleep study to help determine whether you have sleep apnea.
Why is getting tested a good idea?
Here are some reasons why pulmonary fibrosis patients should consider getting tested for sleep apnea:
- Better Sleep Quality
Sleep apnea can disrupt your sleep and cause you to wake up frequently throughout the night, leading to poor sleep quality. This can leave you feeling tired and fatigued during the day. By treating sleep apnea, you can improve your sleep quality and wake up feeling refreshed.
- Improved Breathing
Untreated sleep apnea can cause low oxygen levels in the body, which can be dangerous for pulmonary fibrosis patients. By treating sleep apnea, your body will be more likely to get the oxygen it needs during sleep.
- Better Management of Pulmonary Fibrosis
Treating sleep apnea can help improve your overall health, making it easier to manage pulmonary fibrosis.
- Reduced Risk of Complications
Untreated sleep apnea can increase the risk of developing other health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. By getting tested for sleep apnea and treating it, if necessary, you may reduce the risk of developing these complications.
How is sleep apnea treated?
The treatment for sleep apnea usually depends on the severity of the condition. Mild cases of sleep apnea may be managed through lifestyle changes such as losing weight, avoiding alcohol and sedatives, and sleeping on your side instead of your back. However, moderate to severe cases of sleep apnea often require medical treatment.
The most common medical treatments for sleep apnea include:
- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)
CPAP is a treatment that involves wearing a mask over your nose or mouth while you sleep. The mask is attached to a machine that delivers a continuous air pressure to keep your airway open, preventing sleep apnea episodes. CPAP is the most common and effective treatment for sleep apnea, but it can take some time to get used to wearing the mask while sleeping.
- Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP)
BiPAP is a similar treatment to CPAP, but it provides different air pressures when you inhale and exhale. This can be beneficial for individuals who have trouble exhaling against the constant air pressure of CPAP.
Lifestyle changes such as losing weight, avoiding alcohol and sedatives, and sleeping on your side instead of your back can also help reduce the severity of sleep apnea symptoms.
It is important to work with your healthcare provider to determine the best treatment option for your specific case of sleep apnea. With proper treatment, individuals with sleep apnea can significantly improve their quality of life and reduce the risk of complications.
If I sleep with supplemental oxygen, how can I use a CPAP machine?
It is possible to use a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine while using supplemental oxygen at night.
If you require supplemental oxygen, your healthcare provider may prescribe a CPAP machine with a built-in oxygen delivery system. Or you may use a separate oxygen concentrator alongside your CPAP machine.
To use both an oxygen concentrator and a CPAP machine, you will simply connect the oxygen concentrator to your CPAP machine using an adapter or special oxygen tubing. The tubing will connect to an oxygen port on your CPAP machine. Turn your oxygen concentrator on first and then turn on the CPAP machine. The CPAP will function normally, but with added oxygen in the air delivered by the CPAP mask or nasal device.
It is a good idea to monitor your oxygen saturation during the night, if possible. Your healthcare provider may recommend regular follow-up appointments to monitor your progress.
Sleep apnea is common among people who have pulmonary fibrosis, and many people do not realize that they have it. Sleep apnea can have negative effects on your health and well-being, especially if you have reduced lung functioning. With treatment, you can improve your sleep quality, breathing, and overall health. As always, talk to your healthcare provider about any symptoms or changes you are experiencing and follow their recommendations. You’ll sleep better!
For members, Dr. Jane Hilbert talks about the power of sleep and how pulmonary fibrosis patients can get better sleep. Video 1 hour 30 minutes.
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