"CPAP is the gold standard in sleep apnea treatment, and people should be encouraged to try it," Walsleben said. "If one mask isn't comfortable, there are others you can try." She said the machines have more options these days, and options such as a heated humidifier can make the device more comfortable to use. "It can take trial and error, but don't give up," she advised. "Talk to your physician."
Park agreed, saying that five to 10 common problems with CPAP can usually be solved with just a little effort. "Some people love CPAP," he said, but noted that some others just never get used to it.
Other treatment options include dental devices that push the lower jaw and tongue forward, and surgery if there are obvious airway issues, such as a nasal blockage from a deviated septum. In children with sleep apnea, Park said, removal of the tonsils often helps.
The bottom line, according to both experts, is that sleep apnea is underdiagnosed and undertreated.
"Sleep apnea is more common than you suspect," said Walsleben. "Snoring isn't something to just laugh about. You need to pay attention if your spouse tells you you're snoring."
And if anyone has doubts, remember that the disorder can have far-reaching effects, Park noted.
"A lack of quality sleep affects every part of your body and mind," he said. "People often get treated for other conditions caused by a lack of sleep from apnea, like depression or high blood pressure, but you have to treat the root of the problem."
The National Sleep Foundation has more about sleep apnea.
For more on the hidden health hazards of sleep apnea, read about one woman's tale of near death.
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