|Sculpture by Damien Hirst|
Maybe you’ve noticed them too. The telltale elastic marks, red lines on the faces of portly gentlemen. I was puzzled the first few times I saw them, in the morning, at the train station, on the street. Then it hit me:
Mask strap marks. From CPAP machines.
“CPAP” stands for “continuous positive airway pressure.” It is the primary — though not only — treatment for sleep apnea, a condition where a sleeper’s throat closes and he — sufferers are overwhelmingly men — stops breathing, for up to two minutes.
It’s bad to stop breathing. Sleep apnea leads to fatigue, of course, but also ailments from depression to heart disease.
The problem is growing. The Centers for Disease Control conducted a 10-year study; in 2005, they found 3.7 percent of men had sleep apnea. Ten years later, 8.1 percent had it, though the researchers couldn’t tell if more people are developing the condition, or just more are aware they have it.
When I learned I have sleep apnea in 2009, it was initially a relief, because I thought I was dying. Exhausted all the time; some days my knees would buckle. I figured it had to be my heart. But the heart folks found nothing wrong. OK, cancer then. I went in for a colonoscopy. The doctor who administered it said I didn’t have colon cancer, but pointed out that I stopped breathing during the procedure and might want to get tested for sleep apnea.
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