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Special air pump aids sufferers with sleep apnea

A lot of apnea patients use CPAP pump. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, a special air pump, drives air in a tube to a mask covering the patient’s nose, and then through the breathing tract.

Jackie, a notorious snorer, recently visited with us for a week, and the house was miraculously quiet throughout the night. When we asked what had happened, he showed us his portable air pump, with a mask attached. He said that since he began to use the "seapump," all his snoring problems had been corrected. But he couldn't tell us how this works or why.

There's more to this story than you may be aware of, for it's apparent that Jackie suffers from a condition called sleep apnea. Individuals with this condition are often ferocious snorers, but also have a life-threatening condition. The sound of snoring can hit 85 decibels, similar to the level of a barking dog. During their periods of sleep, they often stop breathing, sometimes for as long as a minute and this occurs several times each hour. As a result, the blood is deprived of its oxygen supply, and body tissues suffer from anoxia (lack of oxygen).

One of the underlying causes of this disease is an obstruction in the air passage, usually in the pharynx. The tissues here become so relaxed during sleep that they close the passage, either partially or completely. As the loose tissues "flutter" in the passing stream of air, the snoring sound is produced. However, when the tissues are held open, the obstruction is removed and the snoring disappears. And that's where the air pump provides the answer.

The Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (or CPAP; you pronounce it "sea-pap") is a specially constructed air pump that pushes air in a tube to a mask that covers the patient's nose, and then through the breathing passages at a higher pressure than normal. This elevated air pressure acts as a splint and keeps the passages open throughout the breathing cycle.

The pump, attached to a nasal tube or face mask, does indeed keep the airway open and stop apnea, but it is cumbersome and few people can tolerate it. There are also custom-made dental devices that pull the tongue forward. Surgery may leave you worse off than before, so if it is recommended, get a second opinion. However, from a doctor's perspective, the laser procedure is not terribly difficult for someone who is familiar with the throat's structure.

Next: Symptoms & diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea