What Is Sleep Apnea? Causes And Symptoms
Do you often find yourself sleep deprived when you wake up in the morning? Do you repeatedly get up during the night, even when you went to bed feeling bone-tired? Does your partner frequently complain about your thunderous snoring?
Then, dear reader, you could be suffering from Sleep Apnea. The word ‘Apnea’ is of Latin origin, which is used as a medical term for going breathless during a sleeping session.
What Is Sleep Apnea? Causes And Symptoms
So, those that are suffering from sleeping disorders like sleep apnea usually spend most of their nightly sleeping sessions being fitful and restless. The breaks in breathing can be shallow or completely pause, which can go on for seconds to even minutes.
And because you’re not resting enough, you will feel drowsy and tired during the day. If left untreated, this disorder can develop into severe ailments and can even cause accidents.
What are the different types of this disorder?
Sleep apnea is classified broadly into:
- Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): If there is a pause in breathing, repeatedly during a sleep cycle, it could be a sign of CSA. Improper coordination between the muscles and nerves or the brain is the leading cause behind this disorder. People can experience CSA due to heart-related disorders and brain strokes as well. CSA patients are often short on the breath that is alleviated once they sit up. They can also suffer from chest pains and general fatigue. The idiopathic version of this disease is rare and hard to diagnose, as there is no apparent cause behind it.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): This particular form of the disease is more due to physical deformation or obstruction of the airway. This could occur when the patient is lying down, fat deposits around the airway, and due to weakened muscles due to age. Obese or older people are more likely to suffer from OSA.
- A mixture of OSA and CSA: Combined symptoms and causes of both types.
What are the symptoms of this disease?
There can be many sleep apnea symptoms and complications one should look for, like:
- Reduced or shallow breathing during the night
- Sleep disruption due to coughing and gasping
- Fatigue during the day
- Mental confusion or reduced attention
- Depression, anxiety, insomnia or other mental conditions
- Increased urination during the night
- Exacerbated respiratory allergies and asthma
- Hyperactivity in children
- A sudden drop in the academic performance of the child
Why does sleep apnea occur?
The usual suspect for this disorder is a blocked or somehow obstructed breathing passage. There could be multiple reasons as to why you suddenly have a choked airway. Men and older people are more predisposed to suffer from such symptoms.
These are the common sleep apnea causes:
- Fatty tissues around the air passage: Fat deposits around the esophagus and the airway can close them up temporarily. Obesity can cause health problems that could also put pressure on these passages, causing breathing to start and stop abruptly during the night.
- Neurological disorders: The damaged or weakened nervous system can lead to OSA or CSA. And what’s worse is that this creates a feedback loop. Less sleep equates to brain damage and memory loss, which can aggravate the condition further.
- Changes in musculature while you’re lying down: When people lie down on their back, which is called the supine sleeping position, they can suffer from an obstructed passageway.
- Enlarged or inflamed tonsils: This is most likely to be a cause in children suffering from the disorder and can reduce the airflow that reaches the lungs.
- Hormonal disorders: A disturbed endocrine system can cause weight gain and hyperactive nerves, both of which can lead to apnea. An underactive thyroid gland and a hyperactive pituitary gland are the main culprits in this case.
- Hypertension, Cardiac or advanced kidney disorders: Congestive heart failure can cause a condition called Cheyne-Stokes breathing, which is most likely to cause CSA pattern breathing during sleep cycles. Kidney diseases and stroke can cause CSA as well.
- Congenital and genetic disorders: Muscular or bone deformities can lead to apnea. Children with a larger tongue, a narrow palate, or a congenitally blocked airway can suffer from such a sleeping disorder. It is most likely to occur in people with a condition called retrognathia, where the lower jaw is substantially smaller than the upper jaw.
- Apnea due to prescription medications: Opioid drugs such as codeine or morphine (and their derivatives) can cause bouts of shallow or irregular breathing.
- Living on a higher altitude: Getting enough oxygen is essential, and if there isn’t enough oxygen to go around, people can have shallow and rapid breathing cycles in general. This is even more pronounced during sleeping, which can eventually cause apnea.
A doctor can diagnose sleep apnea after looking at your medical history and a sleep study. Your physicians need to rule out any other medical issues before settling on a sleep apnea diagnosis.
Even if you have been or are going to be diagnosed with this condition, you must follow all the prescribed sleep apnea treatments, including making healthier lifestyle choices and using assistive breathing devices (like a CPAP machine).
Let your doctor know from time to time about any changes in your breathing patterns. Go through reliable resources to gain more knowledge about your condition.