Chemotherapy (chemo) is a standard treatment for cancer that, while it can be an effective treatment, can also have various side effects, including fatigue, nausea, and hair loss. One potential side effect that is not as well known is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep disorder that can have severe consequences if left untreated. Here is the relationship between chemo and OSA and what cancer patients can do to manage this potential side effect.
What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that causes a person to stop breathing for short periods during sleep, which can last anywhere from a few seconds to a minute or more and occur dozens or even hundreds of times throughout the night. A blockage in the airway causes OSA, usually due to the collapse of the soft tissues in the back of the throat that can result in loud snoring, gasping, or choking sounds during sleep, and can also cause daytime fatigue, headaches and difficulty concentrating.
How Does Chemo Affect Sleep?
Chemo can affect the body in many ways, including fatigue, nausea, and pain. These side effects can make it difficult to sleep well at night. In addition, some chemotherapy drugs can cause inflammation and swelling in the airway, worsening snoring, and other symptoms of OSA. If you are undergoing chemo and experiencing sleep problems, you must talk to your doctor to see if any medications or other treatments can help and if these symptoms could affect your recovery.
How Does OSA Affect Cancer Patients?
OSA can be particularly dangerous for cancer patients, exacerbating other health problems and delaying the body’s healing process. Sleep deprivation can also weaken the immune system, making fighting infections and other complications harder. If you are a cancer patient with OSA, taking steps to manage the condition and getting enough sleep each night is essential to your cancer treatment.
Managing OSA in Cancer Patients
There are a variety of treatments available for OSA, including lifestyle changes, oral appliances, and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines. Lifestyle changes such as losing weight, avoiding alcohol and sedatives, and sleeping on your side can all help reduce symptoms of OSA. Oral appliances can be worn in the mouth during sleep to help keep the airway open. CPAP machines deliver a steady stream of air through a mask worn over the nose or mouth, which can help keep the airway open and prevent pauses in breathing.
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