About Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea: Repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. From the Greek “apnea”, meaning “without breath.”

There are three types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive
  • Central
  • Mixed

In this diagram you can see how the airway collapses at the back of the throat, impeding the flow of air into the lungs. This is “Obstructive Sleep Apnea.” Image credit: Wikemedia Commons

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common by far, with less than half a percent suffering from central sleep apnea and about 15% suffering from mixed sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA occurs when the soft tissue at the back of the throat relaxes during sleep, causing a blockage of the airway (via the nose and/or mouth), and a lapse in breathing, as well as loud snoring.

These lapses (“apneas”) are 10 or more seconds in length and can occur up to hundreds of times in one night.

Central sleep apnea occurs when the central nervous system fails to signal the muscles that control breathing. Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Who is likely to suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

According to the World Health Organization an estimated 23 million in the U.S. have OSA of some degree of severity. It is estimated that less than 25% of OSA sufferers have been diagnosed.

Risk factors are primarily to do with the structure around the airway. OSA generally occurs when the soft tissues at the back of the throat collapse, impeding the passage of air down the throat into the lungs. Genetics, weight, medical conditions, as well as age, can all contribute to sleep apnea.
Major risk factors for sleep apnea:

  • Age. Adults over 65 are two to three times more likely to have sleep apnea.
  • Excess weight. The fat deposits around the throat may obstruct breathing.
  • Neck size. Neck size larger than 16 inches for women and 17 inches for men increase the risk of OSA.
  • Being male. Men are twice as likely as women to have sleep apnea although women increase their risk if they are overweight.
  • Hypertension. People with high blood pressure are more likely to have sleep apnea.
  • Smoking. Smoking increases the amount of fluid retention and inflammation in the airway, giving a smoker a three times greater risk of having sleep apnea.
  • Allergies causing nasal congestion can lead to sleep apnea.
  • Alcohol or sedative use. Alcohol and drugs can unnaturally relax the airways.
  • Enlarged tonsils. Typically the reason for sleep apnea in children.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

You might not be aware of the major symptoms of sleep apnea. Ask someone to let you know if you do any of the following:

  • Loud snoring
  • Choking, snorting or gasping during sleep
  • Long (10 seconds or longer) pauses in breathing
  • Daytime sleepiness, regardless of the amount of hours you were in bed

Snoring or Sleep Apnea?

Not everyone who snores, even if they snore chronically and loudly, has sleep apnea. There are various signs that narrow down the likelihood of your condition being sleep apnea versus simply snoring. Take the Sleep Test available online on our site. If your score shows that there is a possibility you have sleep apnea, you can come in to our office for further testing and a free consultation.

Start your Sleep Test

Grades of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

There is a severity index used to diagnose sleep apnea. This is determined by the number of breathing lapses that occur in one hour of sleep. It is given the acronym of AHI – Apnea-Hypopnea-Index.
“Hypopnea” is where more than 50% of the airflow through the nose and/or mouth is reduced for at least 10 seconds. This would be a partial apnea. An apnea is a complete cessation of the airflow for at least 10 seconds.

AHI 5-15/hour Mild OSA
AHI 15-30/hour Moderate OSA
AHI >30/hour Severe OSA

Consequences of Sleep Apnea

The nasty thing about sleep apnea is that you might be getting your ideal number of sleep hours lying in bed, thinking you are getting the benefits of a good night’s sleep, when in fact you are not.
A body needs sleep and it needs uninterrupted deep sleep in order to remain healthy. Sleep deprivation has many repercussions. Some of the observed results of sleep deprivation are:

  • Moodiness, irritability, nervousness, etc.
  • Slowed reaction time, reduced memory, inability to think clearly.
  • Greater risk for disease such as heart disease, diabetes type 2 and an impaired immune system that can lead to other complications. Studies show, for example, that there is a 2x increase in risk for stroke for sleep apnea sufferers, 3x for those with moderate to severe sleep apnea.
  • Greater risk for obesity. Bodies burn fat best when achieving their optimum amount of sleep.
  • Another unwelcome symptom can be a decreased sex drive or impotence.












Of course, there are the more obvious consequences to sleep deprivation, such as falling asleep while driving or at work!

Click here to learn about the different treatments for Sleep Apnea

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