Sleep apnea has moved past Darth Vader masks

October 5, 2015

People with sleep apnea need not suffer anymore. Long gone are the days of only one or two mask options and loud, noisy and bulky CPAP machines. You can find relief if you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea — or think you may have sleep apnea — but do not want to be strapped to a mask that reminds you of Darth Vader.

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. You may have sleep apnea if you snore loudly and you feel tired even after a full night's sleep.

"I have been helping patients with sleep apnea for 20 years and have seen many changes in continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines that deliver air pressure through a mask placed over your nose while you sleep," says Kara Grottke, Mayo Clinic Health System respiratory therapist. "The air pressure is somewhat greater than that of the surrounding air and is just enough to keep your upper airway passages open, preventing apnea and snoring."

Older devices would take up most of your nightstand, and the machine would keep both you and your significant other awake at night. Or, if you were able to adjust to the noise coming from the machine, you were waking up every hour to readjust your mask because the fit just wasn’t made for the curves and uniqueness of your face.

The machines now are small enough they can be held in one hand and, when coupled with a good mask seal, are whisper-quiet when in use. Manufacturers have heard the consumer and agree that one or two sizes do not fit all. There also are many mask options, sizes and styles from which to choose:

— Nasal-style masks are small, lightweight and fit over your nose.

— Pillow-style masks fit just under your nostrils. These are quite small and feel like hardly anything is on your face.

— Full face-style masks fit over your mouth and nose, but they are much more lightweight and look and feel very different from the big bulky masks from years ago.

"I understand that the thought of going to bed with something attached to your face and blowing air may seem undesirable," adds Grottke. "However, I continually hear from patients that they didn’t realize how much they were missing out on before they used a CPAP machine. They knew they were tired, and that untreated sleep apnea had many health consequences, but they didn’t know how good they could feel." Using a CPAP machine can be frustrating at first, but it is important to stick with it. With time and patience, CPAP can positively affect your quality of life and health.



McClatchy-Tribune Information Services