Sleep Apnea – Busting the Myths Breaking the Stigma

Sleep Apnea is defined by the Mayo Clinic as:

a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts.

Mayo Clinic

Sleep Apnea has it’s fair share of bad press. More often than not it’s shrouded in jokes because of the equipment used to treat it. An even bigger running joke is that it’s a “fat people” disease.

Today on the blog I am going to discuss Sleep Apnea, bust some myths in the process and hopefully educate someone reading this.

Yes I have Sleep Apnea

AP is pictured staring away from the camera in a nasal pillow CPAP mask.
AP photographed with a CPAP Nasal Pillow mask on.

Shocking right? Lol If you’ve been following my health discussions on this blog or on my social media; nothing should surprise you anymore. I was diagnosed with Sleep Apnea back in 2010. After a series of falling asleep at my desk, drowsiness while driving, and raging headaches; I finally saw my physician.

She immediately gave me a pregnancy test and once a pregnancy was ruled out, she sent me for a sleep study. The rest is history. I was diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnea, prescribed a C-PAP machine and I’ve been sleeping great ever since.

Types of Apnea

While the definition of Sleep Apnea is pretty succinct, there are 3 different types of Sleep Apnea.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea, the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax
  • Central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, which occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Symptoms & Complications of Sleep Apnea

As I mentioned earlier with my own experience, I had some telltale symptoms at the time I didn’t know were symptoms. Here is a more comprehensive list of symptoms and possible complications:

  • Day time fatigue
  • Snoring
  • High Blood Pressure or heart problems
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • Complications with medications and surgeries (i.e general anesthesia)
  • Liver problems

For a more in depth look at the above complications and symptoms please visit: Mayo Clinic Site.

Ways to Treat Sleep Apnea

There a a few different ways to treat Sleep Apnea.The most common is the C- PAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Machine) which blows a continuous stream of air into the throat while a person sleeps to keep the airways open. A mask is connected to the face (nasal pillows, nasal mask or full face mask) with a tube to the machine.

White woman with c-pap nasal mask on; turned on her side sleeping.
Pictured here is a woman wearing a nasal pillow mask for the CPAP.

The other options are auto-CPAP, BPAP (Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure), and other oral devices designed to keep the throat open. There are also surgeries that some people opt to get which can include the clipping of the base of the tongue.

It is Not a Fat Person Disease

It pains me that I have to say this, but there’s a lot of misinformation that circulates about Sleep Apnea. Like any other syndrome or disease, there are risk factors. Being overweight is a risk factor because of the chance that there are fat deposits in the neck that will close the airways.

However, every fat person will not have itand every person with it will not be fat. Some risk factors for developing this disorder are as follows:

  • Excess weight
  • Neck circumference
  • A narrowed airway
  • Being male
  • Being older
  • Family history.
  • Use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers
  • Smoking
  • Nasal congestion

The Stigma & The Impact

Many people who are overweight and have Sleep Apnea are afraid to be open about it because it’s one more thing to blame on a person’s weight. We already face discriminatory practices in healthcare, the workforce and other aspects of our lives. If you admit to having it, it’s like being the walking cliche of a fat person; and nobody wants that right?

However, not talking about something isn’t going to make a stigma go away. Pretending to not be ill or ignoring symptoms isn’t going to make it better. I refuse to be ashamed of something that is out of my control, and you shouldn’t be ashamed either.

There’s no shame in using a CPAP or BPAP. It doesn’t kill the intimacy in the bedroom. Those masks slide right off and right back on. If your mate loves you then they will understand how that machine (no matter how cumbersome) is designed to save your life and keep you healthy. If suddenly the intimacy changes, it might be worth exploring why in a therapeutic setting.

Having this disorder is no different than being ill with any other disease or syndrome. It may or may not be curable with weight loss; that’s contingent upon your genetics. Either way, it’s treatable, and there’s absolutely no need to walk around feeling like you have to carry a burden.

The Wrap Up

If you’ve made it this far, kudos to you! Perhaps you already know everything discussed here today or maybe you don’t and you learned something new. If you’re a fat, obese, overweight (however you identify) person and you’re here reading this; I hope you have gained understanding and a sense of solidarity.

If you’re here and you’re not an overweight patient, I hope you take your knowledge and your experience and share it with others to help dispel the stigma that comes with having to use a CPAP.

Each one teach one right?

Shooting star that says the phrase "the more you know"

Do you or someone you love have sleep apnea? What’s been your experience? Share down below!