Obstructive sleep apnea or OSA is the most common kind of apnea and is the result of throat muscles relaxing, closing off the airway. When the airway is blocked you stop breathing. When your brain realizes it’s not getting enough oxygen it will cause you to wake up. This sleep/wake cycle can happen so much during the night you never reach deep sleep.
Central sleep apnea occurs when the signal from your brain does not reach the muscles that control your breathing.
Complex sleep apnea is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
There are several risk factors, some modifiable and some not, that contribute to sleep apnea risk.
If you are overweight and or have excess weight in your neck, it can put you at higher risk for apnea.
Men have double to triple the risk for sleep disordered breathing.
If you have a large neck circumference the excess weight can cause an obstructed airway.
If you have a family history of sleep apnea, you are more likely to suffer yourself.
Smokers are three times more likely to suffer from sleep apnea than non-smokers.
Older people are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea.
If you have a naturally narrow airway it makes breathing more difficult.
Alcohol and certain drugs cause muscles to relax. This can lead to an obstructed airway.
When you don’t get enough of the right kind of sleep, you can suffer from:
Waking up to 30 times an hour because of OSA it means you’re not getting enough sleep, even if you don’t wake up all the way, your brain doesn’t get the kind of sleep it needs. You might notice you are tired during the day. You might be irritable or feel depressed. You may experience mood swings and have trouble concentrating at work or school. Daytime fatigue can be dangerous when driving or if your job requires you to operate heavy machinery.
People with OSA are at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is in itself dangerous to your health but is also linked to heart problems, obesity and stroke among other things.
Sleep apnea causes excess strain on the heart and cardiovascular system. Because of this you are at higher risk for high blood pressure. It can also put you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. You are especially at risk if you have already had a heart attack in the past.
If you already have difficulty breathing you could experience problems with breathing after surgery or when under general anesthesia.
Sufferers of OSA are at higher risk of developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
If you are snoring and waking up often, chances are good your partner is not getting the rest they need either. Sleep deprivation can lead to irritability and other problems listed prior. It is also hard on a relationship if one partner has to sleep in a different bed or room.
There are many options available to help people who suffer from OSA, however it is important to have a formal diagnosis before you begin any kind of treatment. Diagnosing OSA requires a sleep test, either at home or at a sleep clinic. Once you have been diagnosed with OSA we can discuss treatment options.
The most popular treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP). There are different models, but the fundamentals are the same. During sleep you wear a mask over your nose and mouth that forces oxygen into your lungs. While effective, these machines can be uncomfortable and loud. Over time people get used to them, but they aren’t without their challenges.
A less invasive, and for some, easier to use daily is an oral appliance. Much like a mouth guard, oral appliances are plastic and fit over the top and bottom teeth. They are connected by a piece of plastic that keeps the jaw separated, and prevents the tongue from slipping back in the throat.