Sleep Apnea- Causes and Symptoms

Do you stay exhausted during the day and so do your sleeping partner? Do you occasionally wake up in the night and feel yourself breathless? Is your partner unable to sleep restfully due to your snoring? All these might be the symptoms of sleep apnea. Anyone can be a victim of sleep apnea though due to different reasons. Before knowing the various reasons or causes of sleep apnea, we must know what is sleep apnea?
What is Sleep Apnea?
Apnea is a Greek word which means “without breath.” Sleep Apnea is the condition where a person stops breathing for short intervals during sleep. This might happen for many a times ranging from 5 to over 100 times in an hour. As a result of stopped breathing, the brain gets stimulated to restart the breathing process and signals the body to wake up so that the muscles of the tongue and throat can increase the size of the airway and carbon dioxide and oxygen can be exhaled and inhaled respectively. The patient may not remember the waking episodes but this disturbs his/her sleep which is the reason for daytime exhaustion.
Types Of Sleep Apnea
There are three types of sleep apnea- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA); Central Sleep Apnea; and Complex Sleep Apnea. The three types differ from each other in causes but all of them lead to breathlessness during sleep. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea- OSA is caused by the blocked airway, generally when the soft tissues in the back of the throat collapse and close during sleep.
Central Sleep Apnea- In this type of sleep apnea, the brain fails to send signal to the body to breathe.
Complex Sleep Apnea- It is mixed type of sleep apnea- the combination of the other two types.
Risk factors of sleep apnea include being male, overweight, and over the age of forty. However, sleep apnea is not uncommon in other persons irrespective of any age. Even children might suffer from it but they do not fall in the high risk group. This article deals with the most common type of sleep apnea- the Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
Sleep Apnea Causes
As the name suggests, obstructive sleep apnea results from obstruction or blockage of the air passage of the patient. The throat collapses during sleep, blocking the airway and preventing air from going into the lungs. The main causes of sleep apnea include
  • Obesity- the extra tissues help in blocking the airway.
  • Large tonsils- or adenoids do the same work (obstruct the path of air)
  • Other Physical Characteristics- like deviated septum, shape of head and neck, receding chin, enlarged tongue.
  • Nasal congestion- due to cold, sinusitis, allergies, smoking, etc. can also lead to difficulty in breathing.
  • Alcohol intake- the throat muscles and tongue relax more than normal during sleep due to the effect of alcohol or sedatives.
  • Old age- the loose muscles block the airway.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
One must consult a medical professional when the following symptoms of sleep apnea are visible or experienced by self or partner.
  • Loud snoring. However, snoring do not always mean sleep apnea.
  • Shortness of breath- that leads to waking up from sleep.
  • Intermittent pauses in breathing during sleep- This is better observed by the partner or other family members as the patient might not feel it.
  • Excessive daytime drowsiness- If the person falls asleep while working, watching television and even driving

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