What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a disruption in a person's sleep, because they begin breathing extremely shallowly or they have pauses in their breathing. This condition often causes extremely loud snoring as well as daytime fatigue, even after a full night's sleep.
There are three types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea occurs when there is a blockage that prevents air from clearing the airway effectively. This may be caused by a relaxation of the throat muscles. This type of apnea is more common than the other forms. Further, it is common for those who are overweight or obese to struggle with this form of sleep apnea.
- Central Sleep Apnea is a disruption of breathing that occurs because there is a misfire or a lack of proper signaling from the brain, which controls breathing.
- Complex Sleep Apnea is a combination of Obstructive and Central Sleep Apnea.
Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea:
The symptoms of each form of sleep apnea are similar, and thus it can be difficult to determine which form of sleep apnea a person suffers from. Common symptoms include:
- Daytime sleepiness and fatigue
- Excessively loud snoring
- Observed episodes where breathing stops during sleep
- Waking up with a dry mouth and/or sore throat
- Morning headaches
- Insomnia and waking during sleep
- Waking up abruptly and/or waking up out of breath
It is important to have your sleep apnea treated. If your snoring disrupts yourself or others, you have shortness of breath upon waking up, or others observe that you stop breathing during sleep, you should seek the assistance of a health care professional.
Causes of Sleep Apnea:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea is caused by a relaxation of the throat muscles. This relaxation causes the support of the soft palate, including the uvula, tonsils, and tongue, to relax back in the mouth and narrow the airway. As the airway narrows or closes, breathing stops for a short period of time, causing the brain to send signals to wake you from sleep so that you can re-support the muscles and open the airway. It is common to not remember these brief awakenings.
- Central Sleep Apnea is caused by a failure of the brain to transmit signals to your body that it should continue to breathe. This is often caused by heart disease or stroke.
Risk Factors For Sleep Apnea:
There are many risk factors for each type of sleep apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea:
- Excessive weight: fat deposits around the airway may press on and restrict the upper airway.
- Neck Circumference: Those with a neck circumference greater than 17 inches are correlated with a higher risk of obstructive sleep apnea.
- High Blood Pressure
- Narrowed Airway
- Being Male
- Being older than 65
- Family History
- Smoking: those who smoke are three times as likely to develop this type of sleep apnea, as the airway is irritated and inflamed, and may retain fluids.
- Alcohol, sedative, or tranquilizer use
- Prolonged sitting: Fluid moves from your legs when reclining, which causes an increased risk of narrowed passageways.
Central Sleep Apnea:
- Being Male
- Being older than 65
- Heart Disorders: such as atrial fibrillation or congestive heart failure
- Brain Tumor
Tests and Diagnosis Of Sleep Apnea:
There is testing available to help diagnose sleep apnea and other sleep-related disorders.
A Nocturnal Polysomnography is a test in which a person is hooked up to monitors that track heart, lung, and brain activity, movement patterns, and blood oxygen levels.
Portable Monitoring Devices are also available to monitor many of the same criteria.
Treatment of Sleep Apnea:
Mild treatment may include lifestyle changes such as cessation of smoking and weight loss.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines may be utilized, as they deliver continuous air pressure through a mask placed over the nose and mouth, keeping the air passages open.
Oral objects may be placed in the mouth to ensure that the passageway stays open, as an option for those who do not like the CPAP machine, or have problems with using it. Surgical measures are also available to remove excess tissue that may be in the way of the air passage.
Treatment may include a visit to an ear, nose, and throat doctor to manage any blockages in the nose and throat. A cardiologist may also evaluate heart function, particularly when central sleep apnea is suspected.
Additional Sleep Apnea Resources:
American Sleep Apnea Association: The American Sleep Apnea Association is dedicated to reducing injury, disability, and death from sleep apnea and to enhancing the well-being of those affected by this common disorder. The ASAA promotes education and awareness, the ASAA A.W.A.K.E. Network of voluntary mutual support groups, research, and continuous improvement of care.
Sleep Apnea Treatment Guide: On this site you'll find information regarding sleep apnea types, causes, and on a range of sleep apnea treatments, including treatments that don't involve CPAP.