Sleep apnea is a medical condition with symptoms of abnormal breathing during sleep. Typically, the breathing stops and starts during sleep. During this process, your brain senses that you’ve stopped breathing and forces you awake long enough to take a breath. When you fall back asleep the cycle begins again. This can happen up to 120 times in an hour. These temporary pauses in breathing affect more than the quality of your sleep, it affects the body’s supply of oxygen which can lead to serious health problems.

Sleep apnea is a significant health disorder that if left untreated, can lead to harmful short and long-term medical complications up to and including death.

Men and women of all ages can be affected, although men over 40 who are obese are the most commonly stricken by the disorder. Because of the seriousness of the condition, it’s important to understand the three varieties of the illness, what its causes are, the common warning signs you have the illness, and how it’s treated.

What are the 3 Types of Sleep Apnea?

sleep apnea

There are three primary types of the condition:

  1. Obstructive, which is caused by a blockage of the airway due to the tongue collapses against the soft palate and the soft palate collapsing against the throat until the airway is closed
  2. Central, when the airway isn’t blocked but the brain fails to signal the muscles in the body to breathe during sleep
  3. Mixed is a combination of the first two types of this disorder 

 Severe cases of this illness can cause the sleeper to stop breathing hundreds of times a night so that their sleep is of very poor quality. To add to the body’s stress, the oxygenation of the blood is affected, meaning the body’s tissues and organs are also starved for air. Over time this can lead to serious illness. The person may feel perpetually sleep-deprived and could fall asleep while driving or have poor performance at work, low energy, and feel depressed or irritable.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

obesity and sleep apnea

Multiple factors lead to the condition, including:

  • Anatomical structures such as the size and position of a person’s neck, jaw, tongue, or other tissues in the back of the throat can negatively affect airflow
  • Obesity is a leading cause of this disorder in up to 60% of cases and the studies show that even a 10% increase in weight above normal BMI makes you six times more susceptible to the condition
  • Cigarette smokers have a higher risk
  • Heredity may be a factor
  • Nasal congestion forces people to breathe through their mouths
  • Sleeping on your back makes it more likely for the tissue in the back of your throat to collapse
  • Use of sedatives and alcohol can cause the throat to relax and the airway to become obstructed

What are the Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea?

warning signs of sleep apnea

If you snore at night like the proverbial chainsaw, be aware that this may be an indicator. However, not everyone who snores has it. At the same time, not everyone who has sleep apnea snores. So, what are the warning signs?

  • Constant sleepiness and tiredness
  • Forgetfulness and “foggy brain”
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom at night
  • Lack of energy
  • Irritability, mood swings, and depression
  • Lessened ability to concentrate
  • Morning headaches
  • Night sweats
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Weight gain

 Typically, we hear that the person’s partner “diagnosed” the sleep apnea by hearing their partner stop breathing and gasp for air during the night.  

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

First, it’s important to rule out any sort of blockage in your throat or nose. Then your doctor can diagnose sleep apnea through sleep testing, either at home or at a sleep center where technicians monitor your bodily functions during sleep. Some of the tests your doctor may order include:

  • Home sleep tests with a portable monitoring device to measure your blood oxygen, heart rate, airflow, and breathing patterns
  • Nocturnal polysomnography, where you’re hooked up to equipment at a sleep center to monitor your vital signs, brain activity, and other functions during the night

Mild cases may only require a few lifestyle changes like stopping smoking, losing weight, or treating your allergies. More severe cases may require additional treatments.

How is Sleep Apnea Treated?

There are four common treatments. They can include:

  1. A non-invasive pressure therapy machine such as a CPAP, APAP, or Bilevel therapeutic device that you wear during the night
  2. A non-invasive oral appliance called a mandibular repositioning device (MRD), which is a custom-fitted mouthpiece to hold your airway open
  3. Surgery can improve the obstruction in the person’s upper respiratory tract
  4. Weight loss can even help people with milder forms of the disease 

Sleep apnea is serious. If you suspect you’re living with the disorder, call us today. The short-term effects of tiredness, low energy, and irritability are one thing, but the longer-term effects of this illness are not to be taken lightly. Living long-term with the condition can cause everything from high blood pressure to heart failure.