While you may be just one of the tens of millions of Americans that suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), there’s one group you are more likely to be in than others: veterans. According to the Sleep Disorder Center at the Houston Veterans Affairs Medical Center, veterans are highly impacted by sleep apnea and are almost 4X as likely to suffer from the sleep disorder than most other groups of Americans.
The group estimates that about 20% of veterans are coping with sleep apnea and so this particular respiratory disorder is one of the most common service-connected disabilities on record. Why do veterans suffer from sleep apnea more than other groups? It all comes down to PTSD.
Why Veterans are Likely to Suffer from Sleep Apnea
A study out of the San Diego, California VA reported that high risk of sleep apnea was associated with an increased tendency for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. If you, like many service members, have severe side effects from PTSD, you are 40% more likely to be considered “high risk” for sleep apnea.
“The implication is that veterans who come to PTSD treatment, even younger veternals, should be screened for obstructive sleep apnea so they can have the opportunity to be diagnosed and treated,” said San Diego VA researcher Sonya Norman, PhD.
How The VA Addresses Sleep Apnea
While there may be ample scientific evidence of the connection between service-related PTSD and sleep apnea, the VA is still extremely strict and requires a thorough diagnosis and treatment process before you can qualify for therapy.
If you want to be eligible for sleep apnea treatments, you must do the following:
- Receive an official diagnosis from a sleep study
- ApneaMed offers at-home studies so you don’t have to spend an uncomfortable night in a hospital sleep lab
- Provide proof that your OSA started or got worse as a result of active duty
- Draw a connection between the diagnosis and your term of service
It’s crucial that you be able to draw a connection between your military service and your sleep apnea, or at least be able to prove that it was caused, or exasperated, by your term of service.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
If you qualify for sleep apnea treatment, you may experience anxiety or stress about continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or automatic positive airway pressure (AutoPAP) machines. But, rest assured, these devices remain the most effective treatment for those suffering from all levels of sleep apnea.
While these two machines do perform similar functions, there are some notable differences between them. A CPAP gives you a continuous stream of pressurized air throughout the night that works to prevent blockages in the respiratory system. This stops apnea or hypopnea events and keep you sleeping the right way. An AutoPAP machine is a newer and more advanced machine that comes with certain benefits to the user. For example, the AutoPAP adjusts air pressure settings in real-time as it responds to blockages in the respiratory system. That means, if you aren’t experiencing blockages, the pressure will remain low. However, if a blockage shows up during sleep, it will adjust to the pressure necessary to keep your airways clear and flowing. There are even some newer AutoPAP machines that have included humidification systems that can fight the dryness commonly experienced by those who receive CPAP or AutoPAP treatment.
At-Home Remedies To Help OSA
If you end up not qualifying for VA-sanctioned treatment, there are some things you can do to try and help alleviate some of your OSA symptoms. The first, and perhaps most challenging, is weight loss.
There is a pretty significant connection between sleep apnea and being overweight or obese. The extra weight from skin and fat tissues can put pressure on the mouth and throat, increasing your tendency towards airway obstructions. Of course, the best way to try and lose weight is by maintaining a healthy diet and workout system. Once you lose weight, you may start to notice better sleep, but it’s important to maintain that weight loss over time and not regain and put yourself at further risk.
Another important remedy to consider is removing unnecessary depressants from your lifestyle. This could include alcohol, sedatives, or even cigarettes. All of these items can cause increased muscle relaxation that increases the risk of natural airway blockages. If your muscles or skin begin to sag more than usual because of these products, then your OSA could worsen and become more severe. Smoking especially can have negative consequences for OSA because tobacco can actually inflame the tissue in the mouth and throat, causing it to obstruct more easily during sleep.
While these are just some of the suggestions of ways you can start treating your sleep apnea from home, they are not a cure and could only delay worsening of your condition. There is no real cure for sleep apnea, so, if you are diagnosed and approved by the VA, an AutoPAP or other airway pressure device is the best therapy for your condition. Be sure to talk to your local VA doctor or administrator to see how you can get tested for sleep apnea.