Alliance Community Hospital establishes CPAP support group
By Shannon Harsh, The Review, published January 10, 2012
Using a CPAP machine to treat obstructive sleep apnea can be a difficult adjustment for people, but it is necessary to avoid further health problems or even death. To help assure patients are getting the help they need to be comfortable, Alliance Community Hospital is now offering a CPAP support group.
CPAP -- which stands for continuous positive airway pressure -- is a special apparatus that involves a mask connected by a tube to a small machine that uses increased air pressure to make sure you don't stop breathing during the night, which is exactly what happens when you have sleep apnea.
Chuck Moore, senior polysomongraphic technician and respiratory therapist at ACH, said people can stop breathing more than 100 times a night without even knowing it. "If you leave it go untreated, you can develop heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes. It's a vicious cycle," he noted. "And some people have actually died of massive heart attacks in the middle of the night because of sleep apnea."
Moore said some of the symptoms of sleep apnea are snoring, daytime sleepiness and falling asleep at inappropriate times. He said risk factors include having a large neck size, family history, enlarged tonsils and obesity.
Those who are at risk or are showing symptoms can be diagnosed by getting a sleep study, during which the amount of episodes a person stops breathing is monitored during a six-hour period. Moore said patients may be diagnosed with mild (five to 15 episodes per hour), moderate (15 to 30 per hour) or severe sleep apnea (more than 30 per hour). He said he has tested patients who have stopped breathing between 400 and 600 times a night in the very serious cases.
Those who are diagnosed can be fit with a mask and set up with a CPAP machine to help the condition, but Moore admitted the thought of it is sometimes difficult for people. "You have people that come in that are very apprehensive about it, but the key is to reassure them, get them fitted with the right mask and acclimate them to the pressure."
Moore said reassurance is a big key, which is why they have decided to create the support group. He said it was the idea of Mary White, a nurse and registered sleep technician. "She said really we need to have better follow-up with our patients," he recalled. "And just to do this would be a step in the right direction and help us provide outreach to the community and make a forum to have people come in and discuss any problems that they would have."
The idea of the group is to allow patients to come in and meet to discuss any problems they may be experiencing. Moore said it would also give them chance to check on how things are going.
"Once the patient has been tested here and they get the machine at home, that's not the end from our standpoint," he added. "We really want to see how that patient does at home. We don't want to see them fall between the cracks if they're having problems."
Moore said the biggest problems patients have are usually tolerating the pressure or issues with the mask, and he is hoping to help people deal with these problems so that they will continue with the treatment at home and not give up on it. "Compliance is the key at home for obstructive sleep apnea," he noted. "If those people are not wearing it at home, then it's not doing them a bit of good."
He admitted people sometimes have trouble getting comfortable wearing the mask while sleeping, but said it can be done. "The key is finding the right mask. If they get the appropriate mask that they're comfortable with, they'll be able to tolerate it," he said.
Moore is able to speak to patients not only as a professional, but also as a fellow patient. He said he actually was diagnosed with sleep apnea in the past and uses a CPAP every night. And he can speak of success of the CPAP that he has seen in his job. "The people that we've tested that have been on CPAP -- especially the severe sleep apnea patients -- the ones that get on CPAP, do not leave home without their machine," he said. "They swear by it."
Moore said even those who were not tested at ACH are welcome to attend the support group. The next meeting will be from 7 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 7 in Conference Room 3A at ACH. The meetings will be held quarterly, but may become monthly, depending on the turnout.
"I encourage the public -- the CPAP wearers -- to come in because this is their forum to tell us how they're doing and any problems that they have that we can help out with," Moore expressed. "We want to make sure that they're compliant, because if they're not, it's their health that's going to pay the price."