Respiratory therapy ensures patients breathe, sleep well

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— Specialists at Yampa Valley Medical Center are working to help residents get a better night's rest.

The hospital opened a sleep laboratory in January. Respiratory therapy director Bill Moore said the lab has been a great addition that complements other services.

Obstructive apnea, sometimes referred to as sleep apnea, happens when the tissue at the back of the throat falls shut, blocking the airway while a person is sleeping.

"Obstructive apnea can cause a lot of problems," Moore said. "It can really run the gamut."

The sleeplessness caused by apnea can lead to depression and anxiety, Moore said. Effects can be as serious as congenital heart failure.

The YVMC respiratory therapy staff of 10 is working to save patients from the hassles and dangers caused by apnea.

"I think the most exciting thing is how we're treating it," Moore said.

The center uses a Continual Positive Airway Pressure machine, also referred to as a CPAP. The machine maintains a positive air pressure in the patient's airways, even as he or she exhales, Moore said.

The newer CPAP machines make less noise than their predecessors, too.

"It creates white noise that helps you sleep," Moore said. The CPAP masks, worn over the nose and mouth or sometimes just the nose, have been updated and fitted with comfortable gel cushions, Moore said.

"About one third of the adult population suffers from obstructive apnea," he said.

The disorder can be caused by snoring, he said.

Moore said most people think snoring comes from the nose but the origin is actually in the throat.

When people come to the sleep lab to be evaluated, they are put to bed in a small, dark, quiet room in the medical office building.

Doctors in the next room observe the patient's sleeping with the help of monitoring equipment. The laboratory has conducted 70 sleep studies since January.

Moore said patients who have used a CPAP in the hospital have had successful results.

"People are coming into the lab and they're sleeping better than they've ever slept in their lives," he said. "We get comments from bed partners. The bed partner is getting better rest as well."

Moore said all of the equipment in the respiratory therapy department, including CPAP, is state of the art.

"Our ICUs are just as well-equipped as any hospital in Denver," he said. "The equipment is very high-tech."

The respiratory doctors have a wide variety of functions in the hospital, Moore said. Besides working in the relatively new sleep lab, the doctors routinely run life support equipment, treat problems like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and asthma, and conduct pulmonary function testing.

Many of their duties involve heart matters, Moore said.

"That's right up our alley," he said. "You really can't learn a lot about the lungs without knowing about the heart."

Moore noted that respiratory therapy is among the most essential services offered, simply because everyone needs to breathe.

"Most of the time, when you are talking about respiratory problems, it is life-threatening."

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