When vacation time comes around, many people head to the mountains for camping, skiing, or just to get away from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives. Although a visit to the mountains is great for the spirit, sufferers of sleep apnea should take care. Sudden altitude gains can exacerbate your symptoms.
Traveling to the Mountains with OSA
Sudden elevation gain is associated with an increase of apneas during sleep. Multiple studies have found that people suffering from sleep apnea experience more sleep disturbances at higher altitude when not using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). In one study, 34 patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) spent one day in Zurich, Switzerland at 1,339ft above sea level. They then traveled to the Swiss Alps and spent 2 days at an elevation of 6,102ft before moving to 8,497ft for 2 additional days. During their time at elevation, all participants discontinued use of CPAP machines.
Data collected during their time at altitude showed a drop in blood oxygen levels. At the lowest altitude visited, the median blood oxygen levels were 94%. The nights spent at altitude left subjects with decreasing oxygen levels at 90% on night one, 90% on night two, 86% on night three, and 87% on night four. Values under 90% are considered low. Researchers detected a higher number of apneas during sleep as well. Participants also performed poorly on simulated driving tests.
Other research on this topic provides similar results that show that sudden altitude gain has an impact on sleep apnea. Some studies have even found that with altitude gain, OSA can turn into central sleep apnea (CSA). CSA apneas occur when your brain does not communicate properly with your respiratory system rather than from an obstruction. If you plan on gaining 4,000ft or more in elevation on your next vacation, keep these results in mind. You might find yourself feeling more daytime fatigue and performing poorly on tasks that require concentration. An increase in frequency and severity of your apneas could also negatively impact your partner’s sleep.
Bring Your CPAP With You
Fortunately, you don’t need to change your travel plans. A study published in April of this year found that positive airway pressure (PAP) appears to effectively manage OSA in people traveling to higher altitudes. When applied at altitude, PAP increased sleep time from 292 minutes (a little more than 4 hours) to 358 minutes (almost 6 hours) and significantly reduced CSA symptoms.
Even though not all CPAP machines are designed with ease of travel in mind, bringing your CPAP on vacation could make a huge difference. You will feel less tired, leaving you free to fully enjoy your trip.
Treating Your Sleep Apnea
Non-surgical treatment such as oral appliance therapy (OAT) effectively help manage sleep apnea. These oral appliances support the soft tissue of your mouth and throat in order to keep your airways open through the night. Dr. Dunayer will create an OAT device to diminish your symptoms while keeping your comfort and jaw health in mind. Generic appliances could cause a misalignment of your jaw that leads to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
These devices work effectively, but have not yet been tested with sudden altitude gain. If you plan on traveling to the mountains, talk to your physician and Dr. Dunayer about your risk at higher altitude. You could benefit from the use of CPAP during your trip.