Treating sleep apnea while staying safe from COVID-19

***Note some video was recorded before the pandemic, Temple is adhering to all CDC COVID guidelines***

Fear of COVID has caused many people to delay treatment for many medical problems, including sleep apnea. Temple Health sleep experts explain how they're breaking down that barrier.

Late last year, Jennifer Blackwell was sure she had sleep apnea.

"Every time I'd fall asleep, I'd cough, and I just could not sleep. I would, my airway would obstruct," she described.

Blackwell was reluctant to go for a hospital sleep study, because of COVID concerns, and because she wasn't driving following an operation. So Temple Health's Sleep Disorders Center sent the study gear to her.

"We just send a box, you know like this. The patient can use and throw away and we get the results by cloud," said sleep center manager Tahseen Shariff, CRT, RPSGT.

"Everything was self-explanatory. It explained how, you have to put a watch on, and a finger probe on, and a lead on your chest," said Blackwell.

Shariff said the disposable home studies became a must when outpatient facilities shut down in March 2020.

"We had no option, because, you know, we have hundreds of patients lined up," said Shariff. "But we don't want to leave any patient behind."

Shariff said if the home test shows severe sleep apnea, patients can now come to the center for a fitting with CPAP, a device which keeps them breathing through the night. But Temple also does fittings and monitors patients by telemedicine.

"We train them how to use it," he said. "With telemedicine, we can log into those machines and see the compliances also."

"It tells us how many hours they use, and how they're using it," he said.

It also shows if there are still episodes of sleep apnea. Blackwell said with so many new masks, she easily found one that works.

"We started with a nasal mask. That didn't work for me because my mouth kept opening up, and we went to a full face mask," she said. "The mask is comfortable, and I'm sleeping better, and I feel better."

Shariff said anyone who may have sleep apnea shouldn't delay their care, because it's tied to major health problems like high blood pressure, heart attacks, kidney failure, and diabetes.
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