Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Types & Risk Factors
“Apnea” itself means cessation, and that’s exactly what happens to those suffering from sleep apnea; they stop breathing during sleep. When this occurs, the body receives less oxygen than it needs, and a sufferer wakes up temporarily. Your body literally shocks you back into a normal breathing rhythm.
In severe instances, a sleep apnea sufferer may wake up like this more than 100 times in any given night! But because these unbidden “wake up calls” are so short, usually only 10 to 30 seconds long, many sleep apnea sufferers are unaware of their occurrence, and can only wonder why they feel so tired during the day. Many of those with sleep apnea are only informed of their symptoms later, by their sleeping partners.
Types Of Sleep Apnea
There are three recognized forms of sleep apnea. The types of sleep apnea take into account the different causes of the cessation of breath involved in sleep apnea.
What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of sleep apnea. In sufferers of OSA, the upper airway becomes blocked during sleep. Generally, the blockage is due to a collapse of the soft tissue in the back of one’s throat, but blockages can also be present in the nose, mouth, and throat. An episode may consist of a sharp gasp or snort and then a return to normal breathing.
Obstructive sleep apnea can manifest either as a full stop in breathing (apnea) or as very shallow breathing (hypopnea). In either case, the body is not receiving enough oxygen to function properly. During an episode of sleep apnea, the bloodstream builds up an abnormally high amount of carbon dioxide. Triggered by this lack of oxygen, the brain is signaled to wake up and force air into the body.
What Is Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)?
Less common, but equally serious, central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs when the muscles that control breathing do not receive the proper signals from the brain. Often, central sleep apnea develops in tandem with other disorders, like heart disease or stroke, which has led researchers to posit a link between CSA and other medical conditions. Cases of central sleep apnea should be treated by medical professionals who specialize in neurological disorders.
What Is Mixed, Or Complex Sleep Apnea?
The diagnosis of mixed sleep apnea (CSA) describes a condition in which the causes of both obstructive and central sleep apneas appear to be present. Although the mechanisms are still scientifically unclear, many prolonged cases of obstructive sleep apnea, in which the airway is physically blocked, seem to develop into the neurologically-caused central sleep apnea.
Who Is Most At Risk For Sleep Apnea?
Many medical conditions have been linked to sleep apnea. Conditions alongside which sleep apnea is more likely include:
- Obesity and excess weight, which can increase the amount of soft tissue in the throat, are both risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea. As we sleep, our throat and tongue muscles relax, allowing this soft tissue to move more freely, and potentially blocking the airway. More than half of OSA sufferers are overweight or obese.
- Many hereditary, biological features of the body have been linked to an increased risk of sleep apnea. These include a narrow throat or neck.
- Allergies and medical conditions like a deviated septum, in which the bone and cartilage separating the nose into nostrils leans to one side, often result in congestion and can cause sleep apnea.
- A prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea has been observed in persons who smoke, drink, or use sedative drugs.
- Sleep apnea is common among children with enlarged tonsils and those with treatable dental conditions like overbite.
Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea Common?
Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in men than women. It is estimated that 4% of American men and 2% of American women suffer from OSA. In all, that’s nearly 10 million OSA sufferers in America alone. But remember, many cases of obstructive sleep apnea go completely undiagnosed. The actual number of people with OSA is undoubtedly higher than 10 million.
Is Sleep Apnea Dangerous?
Left untreated, a case of obstructive sleep apnea can lead to potentially life-threatening medical conditions, like high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. For more information on the symptoms, risks, and diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea, visit our “Do I Have Obstructive Sleep Apnea?” page. To find out about the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea, read our page: “Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treatment In Bryn Mawr, PA.”