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Sleep Apnea - Symptom, Treatment And Causes

Last Updated: Sep 20, 2021

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious sleeping disorder that happens when any person’s breathing and respiratory function is interrupted during sleep. People who are not aware of this illness and live with untreated sleep apnea, stop breathing for several times during their sleep, which sometimes runs to hundreds of times.

When this happens the brain and the rest of the sleep apnea patient’s body do not receive adequate oxygen during their sleep.

How different types of sleep apnea are classified?

Sleep apnea can be classified into two types:

  • OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea):

    This is caused by blockage in the airway of the sleep apnea patient, and is more common of the two types. This symptom happens when the soft tissue at the back of the patient’s throat collapses during the sleep.

  • Central Sleep Apnea:

    This is a more serious kind of sleep apnea, where the airway is not blocked like in OSA, but the patient’s brain fails to signal the respiratory muscles to breath. This occurs because of instability in the respiratory control center of the patient suffering from this disease.

What are the 3 types of Sleep Apnea?

The 3 types of Sleep Apnea are:

  1. Central Sleep Apnea
  2. Obstructive Sleep Apnea
  3. Complex Sleep Apnea

Is there a difference between Sleep Apnea and Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Central Sleep Apnea develops when your brain fails to provide the proper signals to the muscles that control your breathing. This is not the same as Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which causes you to stop breathing because your upper airway is blocked. Central Sleep Apnea is less prevalent than obstructive Sleep Apnea.

What are the early signs of sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition in which sleep is disturbed due to a sudden start and stop breathing. This effect of improper breathing during sleep interrupts with oxygen supply to the brain as well as to rest parts of the body. Signs like:

  • Loud snoring
  • Sore throat
  • Morning headache
  • Sensation of choking upon waking or reason of waking
  • Disturbed mood due to improper sleep cycles
  • Sleepiness type feeling during day
  • Irritation
  • Lack of attention
  • Concentration like condition while awake
  • Sexual problems (erectile dysfunction)
  • Increased frequency of urine urgency

This condition is mainly affecting people from male gender aged above 40 years, who are overweight or having a disease associated with respiratory system.

Is Sleep Apnea a disability?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not designate Sleep Apnea as a handicap, according to the Nolo legal network. It does, however, include lists for Sleep Apnea-related breathing illnesses, heart difficulties, and mental deficiencies.

What are the causes of sleep apnea?

It is difficult to highlight any one cause of sleep apnea but for common form of it, obstructive sleep apnea, it is found that obesity or excessive body weight is main cause. The changes in muscle functioning that keep the airway open during sleep are relaxing along with tongue may narrow the airway and breathing is disturbed.

Deposition of fat on and around the tissue of the neck region can also restrict the flow of oxygen. People with large sized tongue, tonsils or uvula, recessed chin, the large size of neck and overbite like conditions are more susceptible to this type of sleep disorders.

Why do you gain weight with Sleep Apnea?

Continual sleep interruptions result in exhaustion. As a result of the exhaustion, there is a lack of drive to exercise, which might contribute to weight gain. Additionally, hormone imbalances linked with Sleep Apnea might alter your hunger patterns, resulting in weight gain or loss.

Is Sleep Apnea psychological?

Sleep Apnea has been linked to a variety of mental health issues. This study looked at the link between Sleep Apnea and psychopathology, as well as the use of mental health services, in a nationally representative sample of people in the United States.


How to diagnose sleep apnea?

Patients experiencing primary signs and symptoms of sleep apnea are consulting doctors who first tries to find out the reason behind the condition. Sleep apnea is mainly diagnosed with the help of conducting sleep study in a sleep center laboratory where a multicomponent test is performed.

With the test result of a polysomnogram, doctors can find out whether it is a sleep apnea or any other sleep disorder. There may be chances of conducting tests like an electroencephalogram (EEG), electromyogram (EMG), electrooculogram (EOG), electrocardiogram (ECG), nasal airflow sensor, and snore microphone as it can help in detecting sleep apnea.

What is the treatment of sleep apnea?

There are two forms of sleep apnea- Obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea, from which obstructive sleep apnea is more commonly observed in populations. At the first level, it is advised to consult doctor, record the levels of fatigue, sleep durations, breathing issues and then suggests treatment. Lifestyle changes like reduced consumption of alcohol and smoking, weight loss are recommended so that it helps in normalizing the breathing of patients.

For obstructive sleep apnea, mainly continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP) is used for treatment as it is a mask-like device that keeps the flow of air continuous even during sleep. The other options like the widening of obstructive tissue through surgery and mandibular repositioning device are also used by medical professionals for treating sleep apnea.

What are the risk factors for sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea can affect anyone, any person of any age, even children. But people who are more at a risk of this disease are:

  • People who are overweight
  • Being male
  • Being over the age of 40
  • Have a large neck size (16 inches or more in women and 17 inches or more for men)
  • Have a large tongue, large tonsils or a noticeably small jaw bone
  • People suffering from GERD or Gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Nasal obstruction owing to allergies, deviated septum of the nose or sinus problems

What happens if Sleep Apnea is not treated?

Sleep Apnea can lead to a variety of health issues, including hypertension, stroke, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart muscle tissue), heart failure, diabetes, obesity, and heart attacks if left untreated. It can be deadly or lead to death in the worst-case scenario.

What are complications of untreated obstructive sleep apnea?

As this condition is disturbing sleep as well as respiration, it may lead to many difficult health complications. This condition may raise high blood pressure, other cardiovascular disease, problems associated with mood and memory, type-2 diabetes, weight gain, asthma and acid reflux like diseases.

Patients suffering from sleep apnea have a high level of fatigue and daytime sleep which may cause road accidents and depression. Other complications include problems in focusing due to impaired cognition, decreased quality of life, eye problems like glaucoma, etc.

Can Sleep Apnea kill me?

It is not necessary that a person with Sleep Apnea die while sleeping, the chance of death rises dramatically if the condition is left untreated. Because the brain signals the body to wake up when it detects a lack of oxygen, persons with Sleep Apnea do not frequently die while sleeping.

How long can you live with Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea, if left untreated, can reduce your life expectancy by 12-15 years. While there is no permanent cure for Obstructive Sleep Apnea, it is possible to decrease symptoms and ensure that OSA does not shorten your life with proper diagnosis and treatment.

What are the side effects of Sleep Apnea?

It is known that sleep apnea is disturbing not only the brain but the other parts of the body too. Blockage or collapse condition of airways if left untreated then it may cause long term health complications. The process of consolidation of memories gets affected as sleep helps in it. Generally, people experience freshness after a sound sleep and patients of sleep apnea are feeling more sleepiness during day time.

Depression and mental confusion are also linked with sleep apnea whereas asthma and breathing difficulties are respiratory conditions due to sleep apnea. High levels of sugar, cholesterol and fatigue, hypertension, irregular heart rhythm, heart failure as well as decreased level of oxygen are side effects of sleep apnea.

What is a natural remedy for sleep apnea?

To fight against this condition, a primary goal set by the healthcare professionals is to reduce the weight. With the weight loss programs, people can maintain their healthy weights as well as airways also get clear if blocked due to fat deposition or muscle relaxations. It is advised to not sleep on the back and sleep by altering the body position.

Other remedies include blowing air in balloons as throat exercise, performing yoga asanas, consuming a teaspoon of honey before sleep, raising the level of head of the bed, etc. Use of humidifiers and oral appliances are also sometimes recommended in sleep apnea.

What sleep position is best for Sleep Apnea?

The greatest position for preventing Sleep Apnea is to sleep on your side. Snoring is reduced and blood flow is improved when you sleep on your right side. Also, a little elevation of the head of the bed has been shown to reduce apnea in certain patients. A sleep wedge pillow, which is a foam ramp that is highest at the top of the bed, can help with this. An adjustable bed can be used to lift the head enough to aid with snoring and apnea in patients.

Can neck exercises help Sleep Apnea?

Research has indicated that mouth and throat exercises can assist tone the muscles around the airway, reducing snoring frequency and volume in those with mild snoring. Mouth and throat exercises, meanwhile, have been shown to aid those with mild to moderate obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).

Is caffeine bad for Sleep Apnea?

A few researchers have looked into the possible links between coffee use and obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). According to one study, drinking caffeinated sodas is linked to more severe sleep-disordered breathing, like OSA.

Summary: Sleep Apnea is a kind of disorder that severely affects sleeping ability. It can lead to a variety of health issues, including hypertension, stroke, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart muscle tissue), heart failure, diabetes, obesity, and heart attacks if left untreated. Hence, proper treatment is required to overcome this disorder.

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Content Details
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Written ByDr. Arun Sharma MBBS,MS - General Surgery,MCh - Neuro SurgeryNeurology
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Reviewed ByDr. Bhupindera Jaswant SinghMD - Consultant PhysicianGeneral Physician
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