No, this isn't my Halloween costume, though it definitely is scary looking enough to qualify. This is how I wake up each morning with my lovely CPAP mask and equipment in place.
I have lived with CPAP—standing for continuous positive airway pressure—since early 2013 as a treatment for sleep apnea.
As a primer, WebMD defines apnea as a sleep disorder that occurs when a person's breathing is interrupted during sleep. The main type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, potentially depriving the body and brain of oxygen.
The National Sleep Foundation estimates 18 million adults in the U.S. have obstructive sleep apnea, the most common of the two types.
The CPAP mask, connected to a pump, provides a positive flow of air into the nasal passages in order to keep the airway open.
While I won't go as far as to say I love having to live with CPAP equipment, I do like the fact that the devices typically do contain a good deal of elastomer content.
The masks are made of silicone rubber and the tubing of a thermoplastic elastomer, in many cases a TPU. A molded rubber piece goes on each end of the tubing, allowing for connection to the CPAP machine and to an elbow piece (which also has a small molded elastomer part) that connects to the mask and head straps.
My supplies come from ResMed, one of the largest suppliers of masks and tubing for CPAP, so I don't know which companies are producing the elastomer components. I know at least one NAHAD member (and probably others) manufactures the tubing, and it has been a growing market for them in recent years.
Given that this an application where you would think performance would rule over style, I did get a kick out of some of the descriptions on the ResMed website describing the masks. It touts the AirFit F30 as "a smaller style full face mask designed to cover less of the face for a modern look." And the AirTouch F20 for Her is ResMed's "softest mask ever" and features "stylish lavender accents."
Seriously? These are selling points that are going to make people feel good about having to wear their CPAP equipment. Call me skeptical.
I will admit I was not a big believer in sleep apnea and the benefits of CPAP when this whole process started. When I was first advised to take a sleep study I balked at it for more than a year. Most everyone I knew at the time who had been put on CPAP didn't use it because they couldn't get used to such a bulky apparatus.
But when my wife said my snoring was getting worse, I relented and agreed to take a sleep study. And after taking the test I was even more convinced this was some sort of racket. Being hooked to more than 30 probes and all sorts of other gear isn't exactly conducive to sleep. So it was no surprise when I tested positive for sleep apnea. And nobody ever could tell me whether or not anyone who took the sleep tests were ever found not to have sleep apnea.
I made lots of noise about whether the results were valid, particularly as it didn't seem my case was that severe. I had my first colonoscopy the week before the sleep study and I told my primary care physician that given the choice, I'd rather have another colonoscopy than a second sleep study. I even made an appointment to see the pulmonologist who oversaw the clinic, and he's the one who finally convinced me the problem was a real one.
So I relented and went forward, even though that meant a second sleep study to decide which mask was best for me—a nasal mask, a full facial mask or just a nose spray. And I promised my wife that I wouldn't be one of those who just left the CPAP machine unused, that I would give it a fair trial.
And here I am nearly six years later, still faithfully using my CPAP and seeing its benefits. It's also obvious that I'm not alone.
Just among my circle of friends and colleagues, the number of users keeps growing. The most surprising thing, though, is that nearly all of the people I know now report using their CPAPs with little difficulty. My publisher calls his CPAP "the luckiest CPAP in the world," because it's traveled the globe with him.
The only holdout I know of is a co-worker who never liked it from the start, or believed it did him any good. As a footnote, his daughter is a nurse and she's not real pleased with his stance on this.
If you suspect you may be suffering from apnea, risk factors include being male, overweight, over 40, having a large neck size, having a family history of the disorder or suffering from a nasal obstruction caused by a variety of factors.
Interestingly, males are twice as likely to have apnea than women, but are diagnosed as having apnea almost eight times more than women. There are a number of reasons for this, studies indicate, such as females having different or less severe symptoms, and their breathing problems are more subtle. They sometimes are diagnosed as suffering from insomnia, rather than OSA.
Left untreated, sleep apnea can increase the risk of a whole host of health problems, including high blood pressure, stroke, cardiac difficulties and diabetes, among others.
If you're not sure, play it safe and get checked out. Albeit reluctantly, I'm glad I did. And the boost to the rubber industry is just a bonus.
Meyer is editor of Rubber & Plastics News, and he sees potential rubber-related stories nearly everywhere he goes. Follow him on Twitter @bmeyerRPN.