Sleep apnea is characterized as a sleep disorder in which breathing will stop and start repeatedly while a person sleeps. When this happens, the brain and the rest of the body does not receive enough oxygen which can be potentially deadly.
There are two common types of sleep apnea:
Central sleep apnea: The airways are not blocked; however, the brain fails to signal the muscles to breath which is due to instability in the respiratory control center.
Obstructive sleep apnea: Otherwise known as OSA, this is the more common of the two types of sleep apnea. Unlike central sleep apnea, with OSA, there is a blockage of the airway that’s usually caused by the collapse of the soft tissue in the back of the throat during sleep.
Some warning signs of sleep apnea could be loud snoring as well as feeling exhausted even after a full night’s rest. Of course, there are plenty of other signs and symptoms of sleep apnea which include:
- Abrupt awakenings that are accompanied by shortness of breath (indicator of central sleep apnea)
- Loud snoring (obstructive sleep apnea)
- Periods when you stop breathing when observed by another person
- Problems paying attention
- Waking up in the morning with a sore throat and dry mouth
Sleep apnea isn’t a condition that affects just older adults. In fact, it can affect young children as well. Here’s a list of additional risk factors for sleep apnea:
Central sleep apnea
- Age – Middle-aged and older people have an increased risk of developing sleep apnea.
- Heart – Congestive heart failure is a major risk factor of central sleep apnea.
- Medications – Narcotic pain medications such as methadone increase the risk of this condition.
- Stroke – Those who have suffered a stroke are at a higher risk for either central sleep apnea or treatment-emergent sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea
- Age – While young children can develop this condition, sleep apnea is more common among older adults.
- Congestion – If a person struggles with breathing from their nose, it is likely that they’ll develop obstructive sleep apnea.
- Gender – Males are twice as likely to develop sleep apnea.
- History – A family history of sleep apnea can increase a person’s risk of developing the condition.
- Neck – People with a larger neck circumference tend to have a higher risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea. For men, the risk increases when the neck measures 17 inches and larger and for women, 15 inches or more.
- Smoking – This type of sleep apnea is prevalent in those who smoke because smoking can increase the amount of inflammation in the upper airway.
- Weight – Obesity increases a person’s risk of developing sleep apnea by four times. This is because fat tends to deposit around the upper airway that obstructs breathing.
If sleep apnea is left untreated, a variety of other health risks will increase as a result:
- Arrhythmias or irregular heartbeat
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- High blood pressure
In most cases, sleep apnea will go undiagnosed as it usually cannot be detected during a routine doctor’s visit or blood test. This condition will commonly be discovered by a family member who notices the symptoms.
Sleep apnea requires long-term management of symptoms which include breathing devices, lifestyle changes, mouth pieces and in some cases surgery.