Neil Hinish had been snoring loudly for several years. He was also tired a lot.
"I was tired all of the time and would come in and fall asleep in my chair," said Hinish, 51, of Roaring Spring. "My wife said, 'You need to do something.'"
So in February, Hinish visited the Sleep Disorder Network at the Lung Disease Center of Central Pennsylvania in Altoona, where he underwent testing.
(Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich)
Dr. Alan Kanoff speaks with Jim Kensinger of Martinsburg at the Sleep Disorder Network at the Lung Disease Center of Central Pennsylvania. The sleep lab is located at 800 Chestnut Ave., Altoona.
Hinish said he stopped breathing 68 times within an hour during his sleep test.
"Having 68 apneas per hour is severe," said Dr. Timothy Lucas who, along with Dr. Alan Kanouff, diagnoses and treats patients at the Sleep Disorder Network, which opened in March 2011.
He said apnea is a medical term to describe cessation of breathing.
Most patients with sleep apnea have obstructive sleep apnea. Lucas said that basically means that the back of the throat collapses periodically during sleep and blocks airflow. The patient tries to breathe but cannot, due to the blockage.
He said the body typically responds by waking up briefly to correct the problem, which disrupts sleep, which leads to tiredness.
Lucas and Kanouff diagnose and treat obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep disorders in the sleep lab, which is equipped with six beds. Test results are available quickly.
Sleep testing involves staying overnight in a hotel-like room. The patient is closely monitored with wires attached to check brain waves, oxygen levels, heart rate, breathing effort, airflow and muscle movement, Lucas said.
"About 80 percent of our patients have sleep apnea," Lucas said.
After Hinish was diagnosed with sleep apnea, he was fitted with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine and now sleeps soundly.
"When I go to bed, I put on the mask and go to sleep. If I want to take a nap, I put the mask on. If I don't use the mask, I don't sleep," Hinish said. "It has improved my quality of life. I am not tired all of the time. Before, it was like I was tired on my feet."
Lucas said a CPAP machine generates constant air pressure, much like a medical air compressor, that is delivered to a patient's airway to keep it from collapsing and causing apnea.
Tubing delivers pressure to a mask, which is matched to a patient for fit and comfort, Lucas said.
Hinish said it was not difficult getting used to the mask, which covers both his nose and mouth.
Hinish's treatment also has been beneficial to his wife, Cindy.
"She would go downstairs or move to another room because I snored so loudly," Hinish said. "The first night I used it [CPAP machine], my wife poked me a couple of times to make sure I was alive [because] I wasn't snoring."
Lucas said the CPAP machines are portable and can be carried for travel. He said most people leave them at their bedside.
He said sleep apnea can be associated with other medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes or even cancer.
"In a sense, it can be life-threatening. If they have it for a long period of time, it can be associated with a lot of difficulties," Lucas said.
Most sleep apnea patients can be treated with the CPAP machine.
"I tell people CPAP works nearly 100 percent of the time," Lucas said.
People who have trouble sleeping don't always seek help. Lucas said people may be reluctant to get tested, but he said there is nothing to be afraid of.
"There are times we can make an impact on someone's life quickly. People come in and are very thankful they had it [testing] done. People don't realize how big a benefit it can be. They often wait until the symptoms prevent them from sleeping," Kanouff said. "Chronic problems can lead to long lasting conditions. The earlier we get them diagnosed, the more impact the treatment can have on their lives."
An online survey to help determine whether a person may have a sleep disorder can be found at www .altoonalungspecialists.com.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.