Learning more about a dangerous disease

By April Avison

I received a call a few weeks ago from a woman in Dallas, Ga., who asked me if I'd like to write something about obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.

I have to admit I wasn't really interested. I don't know anything about sleep apnea and wasn't sure it was something that our readers would be interested in either.

But then the caller told me that her husband, Curtis Lee Pickett, had died from complications of sleep apnea. Since his death last year, this woman, Ann Pickett, has been crusading the state to educate others about the dangers of sleep apnea.

Because the cause was so close to her heart I decided to educate myself, and those who choose to read this column, on obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS).

According to literature published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, in an estimated five in 100 people, "extremely loud nightly snoring is the first indication of a potentially life threatening disorder: obstructive sleep apnea syndrome."

Other warning signs include an irregular snoring pattern interrupted with pauses and gasps, falling asleep at inappropriate times, trouble concentrating, headaches or nausea upon awakening and frequent nighttime urination.

Complications from sleep apnea can lead to heart problems, lung disease and breathing problems.

But if the syndrome is identified, steps can be taken to prevent these dangerous complications. Positive airway pressure machines can be used to keep one's respiratory tract open while sleeping.

I'd encourage anyone who has an unusual snoring habit or has trouble breathing while sleeping to consult their doctor. If the preventative measures are taken now, it could mean the difference between life and death.

"Curtis made me promise him while he was lying there going through the dying process that I would research this problem and maybe one day be able to help those other people like him that are going through the same problems to get better and maybe find the cause of this dreaded disease," Ann Pickett wrote in a column that was published in her hometown newspaper.

It can't hurt to be cautious. To find out more about sleep apnea, contact the American Sleep Apnea Association at (202) 293-3650 or visit www.sleepapnea.org.

April Avison is the city editor of the Daily Herald. Her column appears on Mondays. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at aavison@henryherald.com.