Researchers estimate that approximately 22 million people in the US suffer from sleep apnea, so it’s no surprise that some of those people are right here in the Cedar Park, Texas area. Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person repeatedly stops breathing for periods of time while asleep. These brief periods of not breathing can be dangerous, reducing the supply of oxygen to vital organs in the body and sometimes leading to very serious health problems. If you believe that you or a family member suffer from sleep apnea, it’s important to seek help in treating this condition. In this article, we’ll list the three types of sleep apnea, describe some of the symptoms of this disorder, as well as discussing what causes sleep apnea.
The Three Types of Sleep Apnea
Although patients with this sleep disorder often experience very similar symptoms, there are actually three distinct types of sleep apnea, each of which has different underlying causes.
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) – This condition exists in an individual whose airway becomes blocked while sleeping, which causes intermittent periods when the person stops breathing. OSA is the most common form of sleep apnea, and also typically the most severe.
- Central sleep apnea (CSA) – This type of sleep disorder occurs when there is a disruption in signals sent from the brain to the muscles controlling respiration. As a result, the person with CSA experiences shallow, slower breathing while asleep.
- Complex sleep apnea (also referred to as “mixed sleep apnea” and/or “treatment-emergent central sleep apnea”) – This form of the disorder occurs in people who experience OSA and CSA simultaneously.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Because sleep apnea is a condition that takes place while a person is sleeping, it’s entirely possible to have sleep apnea and not even realize it. If you live with other people and/or have a partner with whom you sleep, they may complain that you snore too loudly, which is one of the most common symptoms of the disorder. But there are other indications of sleep apnea, several of which are common no matter which form of the condition you have. Those include the following:
- Periods of time when breathing stops while the person is sleeping
- Morning headaches
- Daytime sleepiness
- Irritable moods
- Inability to concentrate on tasks throughout the day
In addition to the symptoms listed above, if you have OSA you might experience the following symptoms:
- Extremely loud snoring (loud enough to wake up other people or yourself)
- Dry mouth and/or sore throat in the morning
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
The causes of sleep apnea vary depending on what form of the condition you have. If you have OSA, it could be due to one or more of the following:
- Obesity – One of the leading causes of OSA is obesity. When you’re carrying extra weight, you carry that weight everywhere – including in and around the airway in your throat. That results in a narrowing of that airway, and that puts you at a much higher risk for developing OSA.
- Individual anatomical differences – Some people (even people of normal weight) are born with a certain size and positioning of their tongue, tonsils, neck and soft tissue at the back of the throat that makes them more susceptible to experiencing a blocked airway and, thus, to developing OSA.
- Alcohol and drug use – If you drink alcohol or take any type of opioids or sedatives, your throat will relax to the point that your airway can easily become obstructed.
- Smoking – Studies show that people who smoke (heavy smokers in particular) are more likely to develop OSA than people who don’t.
- Genetics – People with a family history of OSA are more likely to develop the condition.
- Sinus congestion – If you experience congestion at night and are unable to breathe through your nose, you are more likely to develop OSA.
- Sleeping position – People who sleep on their backs are more likely to experience an obstructed airway than people who sleep on their sides, for example.
As mentioned above, CSA is different than OSA in that it involves the brain’s ability to effectively communicate with muscles involved in respiration. Unlike OSA, CSA is typically associated with some other underlying medical condition. So the causes of CSA are different. CSA can occur in people who have had a stroke, a brain infection, or TBI (traumatic brain injury), for example. Use of opioids and other pain medicines may also cause CSA. Other people who are at a higher risk of developing CSA are patients with heart failure.
Sleep apnea is a condition that can lead to sleep deprivation, and that can have a negative impact on a person’s overall health. Beyond that, sleep apnea can increase the patient’s risk for developing heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. Fortunately, there are several effective ways to treat sleep apnea. For people with OSA, one common method is to wear a mouth guard while sleeping. These devices are custom made for each individual patient by dentists who treat sleep disorders. A mouth guard positions the lower jaw in a way that prevents the patient’s airway from becoming obstructed. People with severe OSA might need to use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine or a bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machine. Each of these devices consist of a mask that covers the nose and mouth and is connected by tube to a machine that pushes air through the mask and into the wearer’s airway, keeping it open and unobstructed while the patient sleeps.
The first step in treating sleep apnea is to have the condition diagnosed by a doctor or a dentist trained in treating sleep disorders. Once you have a diagnosis, your health care professional will provide you with more information about what causes sleep apnea and recommend the treatment method that would work best for you. To find out more about this condition and how to alleviate your sleep disorder symptoms, contact your Cedar Park, Texas doctor or dentist today and schedule an appointment.