What Is a Good AHI Score on a CPAP Machine?
If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, it’s likely that you’re utilizing a CPAP machine for therapy to help manage your symptoms. A CPAP machine is used to improve breathing at night, and becoming familiar with the different data the device collects is the first step to optimal treatment. Determining your AHI level will help track the severity of your sleep apnea and how effective your treatment is. CPAP machines continue to grow and evolve with continued advancements, meaning many provide accurate, real-time readings of AHI levels. Learn how to track your progress and discover the AHI level you should be aiming for by scheduling an appointment with your healthcare professional.
What is AHI?
Apnea-Hypopnea Index (AHI) is a term used to illustrate the average number of hypopneas and apneas per hour during sleep for an allotted time frame. An AHI measurement is determined during a sleep study. It is the number of times per hour of sleep that your upper airway partially or entirely collapses, which results in brief awakening or arousal from sleep and a possible drop in blood oxygen levels. This number is used by doctors to identify how severe your sleep apnea is and how well CPAP treatment is working.
- Hypopnea: A partial collapse of your airway.
- Apnea: The complete absence of airflow through your nose and mouth.
Below you’ll find the standard ratings for AHI measurements ranging from normal to severe. Your doctor will base any forms of treatment on these findings and will have the end goal of lowering your AHI measurement. Reducing your AHI measurement with treatment options such as CPAP or positional therapy will help improve your sleep quality as fewer hypopneas and apneas are likely to occur throughout the night.
AHI Measurement in a Sleep Study
If your doctor suspects you may have sleep apnea, it’s likely that you’ll be asked to participate in a polysomnogram or sleep study to further determine. For your sleep study appointment, you’ll be asked to complete an overnight stay at a sleep clinic where sleep technologists will monitor you while you sleep to gather data and observe what happens in your brain and body. Several sensors are utilized to track your breathing patterns:
- Nasal Cannula
- Respiratory Effort Belts
- Oximeter Clip
A variety of data is collected from brain waves and oxygen levels in your blood to heart rate, breathing, and eye and leg movements. From these findings, the sleep technologists assigned to your study will determine whether you have sleep apnea and the severity.
Goal AHI to Optimize CPAP Therapy
Once your AHI level has been determined, your doctor will utilize this to select the most appropriate and effective treatment for your unique situation. There are a variety of treatment methods available depending on the severity of your sleep apnea, such as CPAP therapy, oral appliances, and positional therapy. Your AHI level will likely fluctuate each night as sleep apnea can be worsened by many factors:
- Sleeping on your back
- Having more REM sleep
- Muscle relaxants
- Alcohol before bedtime
- Nasal congestion
Since your AHI level can vary depending on the above factors, your doctor will likely average your AHI level over a few months of variations rather than relying on a daily number. Considering the severity of your sleep apnea, your doctor will suggest a therapy that will level your breathing and minimize the occurrence of both hypopnea and apnea.
How to Lower Your AHI Level
It’s essential that those with sleep apnea pay attention to their AHI level so changes can be identified immediately, and appropriate adjustments can be made. If you begin to notice your AHI level increasing there are a few small changes you can focus on before taking the step to switch to a new machine:
- Sleeping Position: Many individuals with sleep apnea experience a higher AHI level when sleeping on their back as gravity works to pull your airway closed. It’s encouraged to monitor your sleeping position and take steps to adjust accordingly. This simple adjustment will likely help decrease your AHI level naturally rather than making the decision to change equipment.
- Mask Cushion and Headgear: An increased AHI level may be a sign of worn-out equipment. Individuals who utilize CPAP machines are encouraged to keep track of when mask cushions and headgear are changed so that replacements can be ordered quickly. Headgear stretches out over time resulting in a faulty seal and possible mask leaks.
- CPAP Mask: If you’re still having issues with your AHI level after adjusting your sleeping position or replacing your mask cushion and headgear, it may be time for a new CPAP mask. Sleep apnea patients are recommended to use their CPAP masks each night for the duration of sleep, meaning they’re not designed to last forever. Advancements are continuing to be made on the design of CPAP masks, so if your current mask has given you issues, there are many others you can try.
Contact a Sleep Specialist Today
Whether recently diagnosed with sleep apnea and are new to CPAP machines or feel you’re not getting the results you’ve hoped for with your current equipment, becoming familiar with your AHI level is hugely beneficial. CPAP machines are designed to help improve your breathing at night by utilizing pressurized air. Your doctor will identify your AHI level through a sleep study and adjust treatment accordingly, so you receive maximum benefits. If there are any times when you notice your AHI level rising, it may be time to make minor adjustments to your sleeping position, mask cushion and headgear, or CPAP mask. If you or a loved one suspects you have sleep apnea, contact a sleep specialist today to begin improving your quality of sleep and overall well-being.