Apnea is defined as a period of not breathing. There are three types of apnea that exist:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
- Central Sleep Apnea
- Mixed Sleep Apnea
The most common of the three types is obstructive apnea, which is caused by blockage of the airway occurring when soft tissues in the throat collapse and close during sleep. Symptoms include snoring, choking sensations, early morning headaches, exhaustion, sexual dysfunction, and memory problems.
More About Sleep Apnea
In a given night, a person with sleep apnea may stop breathing 20 to 60 or more times per hour. In addition to these apneic events, people may experience:
- Snoring (Note: not everyone who snores has this condition.)
- Gasping or choking sensations
- Daytime sleepiness
- Early morning headaches
When breathing stops, the sleeper is awakened just enough to inhale and resume breathing, often without being aware of the sleep disruption. In fact, most people with sleep apnea may be unaware of the problem. Early recognition and treatment of sleep apnea is important because it may be associated with irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
Who is At Risk for Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea occurs in all age groups and both sexes. People most likely to have or develop sleep Apnea include: those who snore loudly, are overweight, have high blood pressure, or those who have some physical abnormality in the nose, throat, or other parts of the upper airway. Sleep Apnea seems to run in some families. People may be genetically predisposed to the condition. These individuals have smaller or weaker airways that are more easily occluded.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is commonly caused by:
Mechanical and structural problems in the airway
Throat muscles that relax during sleep and partially block the opening of the airway
Obesity-when an excess amount of tissue in the airway causes it to be narrowed
With a narrowed airway, the person continues his or her efforts to breathe, but air cannot easily flow into or out of the nose or mouth. Unknown to the person, this results in heavy snoring, periods of no breathing, and frequent arousals (causing abrupt changes from deep sleep to light sleep). Ingestion of alcohol and sedatives increases the frequency and duration of breathing pauses in people with sleep apnea.
What are the Effects of Sleep Apnea?
The consequences of sleep apnea range from annoying to life-threatening. Because of the serious disturbances in their normal sleep patterns, people with sleep apnea often experience:
Sleepiness during the day
- Poor concentration and daytime performance
- Sexual dysfunction
- Learning and memory difficulties
- Falling asleep while at work, on the phone or driving
- High blood pressure
- Risk of heart attack or stroke
Untreated sleep apnea patients are 3X (or more) likely to have automobile accidents; CPAP treatment reverses the increased risk.
How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?
A sleep study using Polysomnography (PSG) is conducted that records a variety of body functions during sleep, such as the electrical activity of the brain, eye movement, muscle activity, heart rate, respiratory effort, air flow and blood oxygen levels.
How is Sleep Apnea Treated?
The specific therapy for sleep apnea is tailored to the individual patient based on medical history, physical examination and the results of polysomnography. Medications are generally not effective in the treatment of sleep apnea. Oxygen is sometimes used in patients with central apnea caused by heart failure. It is not used to treat obstructive sleep apnea.
If you would like to learn more or have other questions regarding sleep disorders or a sleep study, we invite you to call us at (844) 788-4733.