Sleep apnea is a very common sleep disorder where a person stops breathing for a short moment and then resumes breathing again. This happens repeatedly throughout the night as the individual is sleeping. There are two main types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), when throat muscles relax causing a physical blockage, and central sleep apnea (CSA), when the brain fails to tell the body to breathe during sleep. You can also have a combination of both (complex sleep apnea syndrome), but OSA is most common.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea (OSA and CSA)
It’s possible that many people who suffer from sleep apnea aren’t even aware of it— especially if they live alone. One usually finds out that they have it because their partner or other family member notices their sleeping patterns. Someone may be able to tell you that you have sleep apnea if you:
- Choke/gasp for air during sleep
- Snore extremely loud
- Stop breathing during sleep
If you live alone, it can be harder to determine if you have sleep apnea. You may have it if you notice that you experience any of these symptoms:
- Dry mouth/sore throat when you awaken
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Morning headaches
- Trouble focusing throughout the day
What Can Cause Sleep Apnea?
Because OSA is a physical condition, it’s easier to determine its causes. In OSA, the throat muscles become relaxed causing the airways to narrow. This is more likely to happen in individuals who are overweight, but many other factors can contribute to obstructive sleep apnea. These factors include:
- Being male
- Being older
- Certain medical conditions (hypertension, diabetes, etc.)
- Family history
- Nasal congestion
- Having a thicker neck
- Having naturally narrow airways
- Using alcohol, sedatives, tranquilizers and tobacco
Central sleep apnea can also be caused by having certain medical conditions, such as heart failure or Parkinson’s disease. However, CSA can be caused by many other things, and these are categorized as different types of CSA:
- Cheyne-Stokes breathing: breathing repeatedly speeds up, slows down, and stops during the night. This is more in people who’ve had a stroke or heart failure.
- High-Altitude Periodic Breathing: breathing patterns change when at a higher altitude (8,000ft/2,500m or more).
- Narcotic-induced: Codeine, morphine, oxycodone, and other opioid medications can affect breathing patterns, causing CSA.
Treating Different Types of Sleep Apnea
Both OSA and CSA (and even complex sleep apnea) are often treated with a continuous positive airway pressure machine or a CPAP machine, but this isn’t the only treatment option. It’s also not always the most effective option. Other, more natural ways that both types are treated include living a healthier lifestyle by not smoking or abusing alcohol and drugs, and also by exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet. These methods may not always cure sleep apnea, but not doing them definitely makes it worse.
Treating Central Sleep Apnea
CSA isn’t studied as much as OSA, so there aren’t as many treatment options available. However, there’s a new treatment being studied called Remede System. However, not everyone suffering from CSA may be a viable candidate for this treatment option. More studies need to be done on CSA for more treatment options.
Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea
The most common way to treat OSA is with a CPAP machine. However, Philips Respironics have recalled certain CPAP machines due to them possibly emitting carcinogens, like formaldehyde. Because these CPAP machines have made people sick, many people have been looking into different treatment options. There are other types of breathing machines, such as:
- Automatic Positive Airway Pressure (APAP) machine that props your airway open while you sleep, delivering pressure based on your body’s needs.
- Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) machine is similar to the CPAP, but pushes down your diaphragm.
Surgery may be an option for those suffering from OSA. It’s one of the most common ENT conditions that require surgery, especially in those who have narrow airways.
What Happens if Sleep Apnea Goes Untreated?
Untreated sleep apnea can increase your risk of diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, liver problems, obesity, and stroke. Not to mention, it impairs your ability to get a good night’s sleep, which can also lead to more health problems.
If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor. He or she can help verify if you actually have it, and help you determine which type of sleep apnea you may have. Once you’ve received your diagnosis, you and your doctor can figure out the best way to treat your sleep apnea.