Sleep Apnea 101

Sleep apnea is one of several types of sleep disorders. People who have sleep apnea sleep poorly at night because they stop breathing many times during the night.

Sleep Apnea 101

It is associated with snoring during the night and ongoing fatigue, even when you have had a complete night’s sleep.

There are Three Types of Sleep Apnea

  • Obstructive sleep apnea. This is the most common type of sleep apnea. The throat muscles relax during sleep, blocking the air passages.
  • Central sleep apnea. This happens when the brain fails to send signals to the breathing muscles and you stop breathing.
  • Complex sleep apnea. This occurs when you have a combination of central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea.

Signs And Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea

The signs and symptoms of the two major types of sleep apnea often overlap so it can be hard to tell what kind of sleep apnea you have. The major signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Episodes where you stop breathing during the night. Others around you often notice the problem.
  • Snoring loudly, especially in obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Waking up with a headache.
  • Waking up with a sore throat or a dry mouth.
  • Having problems with insomnia.
  • Irritability during the day.
  • Problems maintaining attention during the day.
  • Excessive sleepiness in the daytime.

Causes Of Sleep Apnea

Many people who have obstructive sleep apnea are overweight and have excessive tissue in the back of the throat that relaxes during sleep, blocking off the airways causing them to stop breathing. The oxygen level in the blood goes down and the sufferer will gasp, waking up a little and catching their breath. They usually don’t remember waking up.

This pattern can happen all night long, up to 30 times per hour or more. You don’t get enough sleep and you become tired during the day. Because you don’t remember waking up at night, you believe you have slept well.

If you have central sleep apnea, the brain doesn’t send enough signals to your breathing muscles, so you simply quit breathing during the night. This can lead to having problems getting to sleep or staying sleeping throughout the night.

Sleep Apnea

Risk Factors For Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can happen to anyone at any age, including children. The major risk factors for developing the disorder include the following:

  • Being overweight. If you are overweight, you have four times greater risk of having sleep apnea when compared to people who are of normal weight. You can still, however, have sleep apnea and not be overweight.
  • Having a thicker neck. If your neck is overly thick, your airways are likely to be narrower. The doctor will measure the thickness of your neck to see if you are at risk.
  • Having a narrow airway. You may have been born with an airway that is naturally too narrow. You may also have enlarged adenoids or tonsils, contributing to a narrow airway.
  • Your gender. Sleep apnea is twice as common in men, although women have an increased risk following menopause.
  • Your age. Older people have a greater risk of having sleep apnea.
  • You have a family history. If others in the family have the disorder, you are at a higher risk.
  • Using alcohol or sedatives. These things contribute to relaxation of the throat.
  • Being a smoker. Smokers have a threefold risk of having sleep apnea.
  • Having nasal congestion. If your nose is constantly plugged, you breathe through your mouth and this can lead to having a blocked airway.

Treatment Of Sleep Apnea

If you have mild sleep apnea, you may be able to quit smoking, take allergy medication or lose weight in order to improve your symptoms.

If your apnea is more than mild, you may need to use a CPAP machine at night. CPAP, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure, is the main treatment for moderate to severe sleep apnea. It is a device that is placed over your nose during sleep that delivers air to the air passages, keeping them open all the time. That way the muscles don’t relax and you get air throughout the night.

In some cases, the CPAP machine does not work and you could need surgery. Surgery involves removing some of the excess tissue in the back of the mouth and on the soft palate. The uvula may also be removed as part of surgery to correct sleep apnea.

You stop snoring and you can sleep better throughout the night. Other types of surgery for sleep apnea include repositioning the jaw or putting in plastic rods in the soft palate. In rare cases, a tracheostomy needs to be performed, which involves putting a hole in the front of the neck for air to pass through.

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