Sleep apnea is a serious sleeping disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. This sense of inability to breathe rouses one from sleep, but this awakening is very small that one can’t remember it. The main types of sleep apnea include obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea and a combination of both known as complex sleep apnea syndrome. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles of the throat relax and narrow the airways. Whereas, central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to transmit signals to the muscles that are used for breathing, causing shortness of breath and disturbed sleep. Below we will discuss the causes of sleep apnea, and talk about the symptoms and risk factors as well.
The symptoms of different kinds of sleep apnea usually overlap; the major symptoms include the following:
- Loud snoring
- Intermittent pauses in breathing during sleep
- Occasionally waking up with a choking or gasping sensation
- Daytime drowsiness
- Sleepiness while driving
- Morning headaches
- Restless sleep
- Forgetfulness and attention problems
- Waking up with a very sore or dry throat
- Decreased sexual desire
Obstructive sleep apnea
This occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax. These muscles support the soft palate, the triangular piece of tissue hanging from the soft palate (uvula), the tonsils, the side walls of the throat and the tongue.
When the muscles relax, your airway narrows or closes as you breathe in. You can’t get enough air, which can lower the oxygen level in your blood. Your brain senses your inability to breathe and briefly rouses you from sleep so that you can reopen your airway. This awakening is usually so brief that you don’t remember it.
You might snort, choke or gasp. This pattern can repeat itself five to 30 times or more each hour, all night, impairing your ability to reach the deep, restful phases of sleep.
Central sleep apnea
This less common form of sleep apnea occurs when your brain fails to transmit signals to your breathing muscles. This means that you make no effort to breathe for a short period. You might awaken with shortness of breath or have a difficult time getting to sleep or staying asleep.
Though sleep apnea can affect anyone at any age, certain factors can increase your risk of sleep apnea:
People who are obese have a higher risk of sleep apnea. Usually the excess body weight that accumulates around the neck area constricts the airways and disrupts breathing. A study has shown that 50% of sleep apnea patients are overweight. Nevertheless, sleep apnea can occur in slim people too.
A large neck is also a risk factor for sleep apnea. For men, the risk increases if neck size is 17 inches or more whereas for women the risk increases if it is 16 inches or more. A large neck has more soft tissues that can block the airways.
Although sleep apnea affects people of all ages, the risk is higher in those older than 40 years.
Inherited physical traits:
Some people are also prone to this sleeping disorder due to some inherited physical features. The composition of the head, skull, and oral cavities can influence the chances of having sleep apnea. Similarly, a narrow throat may also block the airway.
Men are twice as likely to have sleep apnea than women.
Sleep apnea is a heritable condition. One is more likely to have it if a family member has this sleeping disorder.
Use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers:
Alcoholic drinks and tranquilizers relax the throat muscles, narrowing the airways.
Smokers are three times more likely to have sleep apnea than non-smokers. It causes inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway, thus obstructing it.
If one has difficulty breathing through their nose, no matter what the reason is; be it an anatomical deformity or an allergy, they are more likely to develop sleep apnea.
Cardiac patients have a higher risk of sleep apnea.
People who’ve had a stroke are at a greater risk of central sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition. Complications can include:
- Daytime fatigue; The repeated awakenings associated with sleep apnea make normal, restorative sleep impossible, making severe daytime drowsiness, fatigue and irritability likely.
- High blood pressure or heart problems; Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during sleep apnea increase blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system. Having obstructive sleep apnea increases your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension).
- Type 2 diabetes; Having sleep apnea increases your risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Consult our medical professionals if you experience loud snoring, shortness of breath or any of the other mentioned symptoms. You can book an appointment with a psychiatrist in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore through oladoc.com. You can also call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT doctor for your health concerns.