Summer is here, and so is summer travel! If you’re planning a weekend getaway or even a weeklong cruise, you may be making plans about what to pack. If you have sleep apnea, one of the things you know you’re going to need to pack is your CPAP machine. If you don’t want to lug your CPAP along with your luggage, there may be an alternative treatment option available to you.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes people to stop breathing for short periods during sleep. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. OSA occurs when airway collapse causes snoring and interrupted breathing while sleeping. Some people also experience central sleep apnea (CSA), which happens when the brain fails to send signals to the muscles controlling breathing. Both types of sleep apnea are caused by a combination of factors, including:
Obesity. People who are overweight tend to have more fat tissue in the neck area, which can make it harder to breathe. This also makes it easier for the tongue to block the airways.
Genetics. A family history of sleep apnea increases the risk of developing this disorder. Other contributing factors include being male, having high blood pressure, smoking, alcohol use and depression.
Poor Sleep Posture. Sleeping on your back rather than on your side can put extra strain on the throat and cause the airway to narrow.
Other Medical Conditions. Certain medical conditions such as nasal congestion, heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disorders, stroke, and enlarged tonsils and adenoids can cause pauses in breathing and increase the likelihood of sleep apnea.
How Does Sleep Apnea Affect You?
People with sleep apnea often feel tired throughout the day, but they may not realize why. They may complain about feeling sleepy at work or school. They may have trouble concentrating and may fall asleep at inappropriate times. These symptoms could be signs of sleep deprivation. In addition, people with sleep apnea may notice changes in their mood and behavior. They may become irritable, angry, anxious, depressed or aggressive. Their memory may be affected, and they may have problems with decision making.
People with sleep apnea may also experience headaches, sore throats, dry mouth, excessive daytime drowsiness and difficulty falling asleep.
What Is a CPAP Machine?
CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. It’s a device that helps keep the airway open during sleep. When someone has sleep apnea, the body stops breathing for brief periods while he or she sleeps. During these pauses, oxygen levels drop and carbon dioxide builds up. The CPAP machine keeps the airway open by providing a steady stream of pressurized air through a mask worn over the nose. The air pressure forces the soft palate and uvula to stay flat against the back of the throat, allowing you to breathe.
CPAP and Traveling
As the CPAP machine plays a role in keeping your airway open, you should plan to take it with you when traveling. However, that could present some hassles along the way, including:
- Getting it set up before leaving home.
- Taking it out of its case and setting it up before bedtime (be sure to pack your tubes and extra tubes!).
- Keeping it clean so it doesn’t get contaminated by germs from other travelers.
If you’re planning to bring your own portable CPAP machine with you on vacation, consider packing it in a carry-on bag instead of checking it in your luggage. You may also want to consider getting a doctor’s note for your machine. That will help if you need to check it in at an airport.
If you decide to bring your own portable machine, check with your doctor first to see whether it is safe for you to do so. Some machines contain lithium batteries that can leak toxic chemicals into the air. Also, some portable CPAP machines don’t provide enough airflow to help prevent snoring.
So, can you skip taking it with you? We don’t recommend that. If you have obstructive sleep apnea, you are living with a heightened risk for serious and chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety and cognitive impairment. Taking your CPAP machine with you when you travel can reduce those risks.
An Alternative to CPAP
Or, if you’re tired of your CPAP and want an easier way to travel with OSA, consider oral appliance therapy. Oral appliances are designed to hold the tongue and jaw forward, opening the airway and improving airflow. They are an excellent option for many individuals living with OSA.
Are you a candidate for oral appliance therapy? Call us now to find out!