COPD and Sleep Apnea; Advice from Sue Binnall

July 29th, 2011 | Author: Katelyn Turner

Sue Binnall was diagnosed with COPD in 1995, and it wasn’t until 2001 that she found out she actually had Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. She says she developed sleep apnea shortly after that.

“I didn’t realize I had it, because I don’t think a lot of people realize what the symptoms are. I was tired a lot, and I was dozing off at my desk at work, but I thought it was because I was not getting a good night’s sleep,” she says. “It didn’t push me to get checked.”

Binnall says she had trouble sleeping once her COPD got worse. She was on oxygen but still wasn’t breathing properly at night, so then she was tested for sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea (OSA) is a chronic medical condition where the affected person repeatedly stops or nearly stops breathing during sleep. These episodes last 10 seconds or more and cause oxygen levels in the blood to drop leading to important health consequences. Usually it is caused by obstruction of the upper airway, resulting in obstructive sleep apnea. However, it may be caused also by a failure of the brain to initiate a breath, called central sleep apnea. OSA is very common, especially in older adults, occurring in up to 70% of men and 56% of women. Patients with untreated OSA have more automobile accidents and suffer from more family and social discord.


“I was put on a CPAP right away, and that helped a great deal but it was still awhile before I was sleeping comfortably,” she says. “To this day, I’ve been tested twice and the pressure in my CPAP has increased twice.”

CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, is a treatment that uses mild air pressure to keep your airways open. CPAP typically is used for people who have breathing problems, such as sleep apnea.

CPAP treatment is done using a CPAP machine. CPAP machines have three main parts:

  • A mask or other device that fits over your nose or your nose and mouth. Straps keep the mask in place while you’re wearing it.
  • A tube that connects the mask to the machine’s motor.
  • A motor that blows air into the tube.

Binnall says sleep apnea is something that needs to be diagnosed by a doctor.

“It’s important to talk to your doctor, and talk about the possibility of using a CPAP on a nightly basis so you are more alert during the day, she says. “My primary care doctor did X-rays and saw we I had some problems, but figured it was because I smoked. In 1999 I got breast cancer and went through surgery, chemo and radiation. At that point my breathing became much worse and my doctor questioned whether it was something other than COPD.”

She says other COPDers who think they might have sleep apnea should talk to their doctor, and to try to be as healthy in their everyday life as possible.

“Get out there and do some exercise; make your life better. Life is important, make sure that you’re trying to make your body better by doing the right thing,” she says. “If the rest of your body is in better shape, your lungs will function better.  With lung problems it can be very difficult, and if you have any type of infection or respiratory issue, see your doctor right away. You need to make sure you’re as healthy as you can be.”

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