a woman waking up to a bright new day wearing her sleep apnea mask

No More Headaches

Visiting my sleep apnea doctor at the Mayo Clinic I said, “No doctor, I don’t use my CPAP. It always leaks. I don’t sleep and am up and down all night long. I’m always so tired.”

You see, I have OSA, or obstructive sleep apnea, which causes a person to stop and start breathing while sleeping. The muscles in a person’s throat relax and block a person’s airway.

The doctor looked at the information that my CPAP machine had recorded. The Mayo Clinic goes through the machines and is able to retrieve the recordings that tell usage, the type of leaks, etc...

Trying on different CPAP masks

The doctor left the room and came back with an armful of different CPAP masks. He set them down on the exam table. Looking at them, I was overwhelmed. I thought there were only a few kinds, these were all different. I tried them on.

After so many, he showed me a full-face mask. The doctor told me to try this one on; he was sure that it would work.

Talking with my sleep doctor

This one seemed to fit. Actually, the doctor said that I needed a size small! Whoa! I called my husband as soon as I could after the appointment. “Honey, guess what! I don’t have a big mouth, I have a small mouth! The doctor said so!”

What a highlight and a reason to laugh and I felt so excited! The mask actually has a shelf which is a place to rest my chin. I’m a mouth breather and this would hold my chin up so I would breathe through my nose.

That was my last night at the Mayo, so the doctor wrote me an order for that style mask. The next day, I was to follow up with the local home health agency in my town. When I did, they ordered the mask, since they had a prescription from my sleep doctor. They also noted any changes to the settings on my CPAP machine and the doctor’s notes and recommendations.

Treating sleep apnea for better health

My sleep doctor asked different types of questions, that seemed a bit odd but made sense. During the visit with the sleep doctor, he asked:

  • Do I fall asleep during the day?
  • Do I fall asleep when watching TV?
  • Do I fall asleep in the car while being a passenger?
  • Have I ever dozed off while driving and maybe stopping at a stoplight?
  • How many times in a day would I fall asleep, either in bed or elsewhere?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, "Obstructive sleep apnea, or simply sleep apnea, can cause fragmented sleep and low blood oxygen levels. For people with sleep apnea, the combination of disturbed sleep and oxygen starvation may lead to hypertension, heart disease, and mood and memory problems."1 Sleep apnea increases the risk of drowsy driving and can affect your days and nights.

Waking up without a headache

A few days after my appointment, I was able to pick up my new mask. I tried it on and adjusted the straps. This felt much different than any others I had tried on. I couldn’t wait to use it.

The next day, I woke up, turned my CPAP machine off, and took off the mask. I remember waking up a few times. It seems I fell right back to sleep. I got up and walked into the other room, surprised that I didn’t have a headache. I hadn’t felt this good in a long time. Those headaches had been with me for some time. Even when I wasn’t able to wear my CPAP, I did use oxygen with tubing. Yet, I had the headaches. This felt so good.

I continue to wear this style mask, even though I’ve been shown newer styles. The only time that I have problems with leakage is when my allergies are triggered which causes swelling in my eyes and face.

The surprising effect on my pulmonary hypertension

If your doctor asks you to have a sleep study, do it. You can learn so much about sleep disorders. If diagnosed with sleep apnea, do treat it. The masks aren’t cute. Your face may show marks where the straps and masks were, but this can be lifesaving.

The biggest change that came from wearing my CPAP regularly came a couple of years later. At a later appointment, the cardiologist said that my pulmonary hypertension was almost gone and he was sure that it was because I was using the CPAP. The pulmonary hypertension was now mild. The doctor was so pleased. I was amazed. I didn’t even know that’s possible. Would it work for others? I don’t know. I don’t know anyone else who has had this happen.

As I tell others, if you are given a mask that doesn’t work, try another. It needs to fit.

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