April 18: Sleep Apnea Awareness Day

Connie K. Ho for Redorbit.com

18 million. That´s the number of people, and counting, who are believed to have sleep apnea. What´s most shocking is that three-quarters of them don´t even know that they have the disorder. To bring awareness to sleep apnea, the American Apnea Sleep Association (ASAA) has made April 18 Sleep Apnea Awareness Day.

Sleep apnea is a chronic disease where the person´s tongue and soft palate fall against the back of the throat, making it difficult to breathe. The disorder can lead to chronic heart failure, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, sudden death, among other serious effects for adults. For children who suffer from the illness, there may be consequences like hyperactivity and delayed cognitive development.
April 18 was chosen as Sleep Apnea Awareness Day because, in 1981, the British medical journal The Lancet published information regarding Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), which revolutionized sleep apnea treatment.

“Every day is sleep apnea awareness day at the ASAA,” said executive director Edward Grandi in a statement. “But we designated April 18th as Sleep Apnea Awareness Day because we believe that educating people about sleep apnea´s dangers is critical.”

Apart from CPAP, another type of treatment is neurostimulation. Described as the “pacemaker for the tongue,” it´s for people who have tried CPAP but haven´t had any success. ImThera Medical, a company based in northern California, began developing the product in 2008 and has seen success for its patients. Marcello Lima, the CEO of ImThera Medical, described how CPAP could be cumbersome to wear for some patients as it included a mask and ventilator.

Lima was first encouraged to look into neurostimulation and alternative therapies after seeing how his wife´s younger brother, who is a severe apnea patient, couldn´t adjust to CPAP.

“Alternative therapy is in clinical trials to help these patients who can´t comply to CPAP, explained Lima. “It´s important to know that there are alternative therapies close to commercialization, at least in Europe. I think that alternative therapy may help many who fail CPAP.”

Lima highly encourages people or their partners to seek a physician or general practitioner’s diagnosis if they believe that they suffer from sleep apnea. Doctors can administer the appropriate tests, determine if a patient has sleep apnea, and analyze the level of sleep apnea. The variety of symptoms can range from frequent and loud snoring to feeling exhausted after sleeping.