What Causes Obstructive and Central Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that impairs your breathing either due to relaxation of throat muscles or failed signal transmission to the brain. Most people with sleep apnea snore during their sleep, but snoring doesn’t always mean you have this disorder. If you have sleep apnea, you may feel tired in the morning, even after a whole night of sleep. It is important to see Dr. Matthew W. Shawl if you think you have sleep apnea, to prevent heart problems. The following are the different types of sleep apnea, including their symptoms and causes.

Obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles supporting the soft palate, tonsils, and uvula relax. These muscles are located at the back of your throat, and when they relax, your airways narrow or close as you breathe. When these muscles obstruct your breathing, the oxygen level in your blood decreases as the carbon dioxide levels increase. Your brain senses this and briefly rouses you from sleep to reopen your airways. You can hardly remember these episodes of awakening since they are usually so brief. As you awaken to reopen your airways, you might choke, snort, or gasp. The pattern can repeatedly occur up to 30 times or more per hour, limiting your ability to get quality sleep.

Central sleep apnea

Unlike obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when your throat muscles relax, central sleep apnea occurs when your brain doesn’t transmit signals to your breathing muscles. As a result, your body makes no effort to breathe, causing you to awaken with shortness of breath. If you have central sleep apnea, you may have challenges falling or staying asleep.

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

The signs and symptoms of the two types of sleep apnea usually overlap, making it difficult to determine the kind of disorder you may have. However, there are common signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea that include:

  • Dry mouth, especially in the morning
  • Loud snoring
  • Morning headache
  • Shortness of breath or gasping for air during sleep
  • Episodes of stopped breathing. You may not notice this – another person would report.
  • Irritability
  • Feeling excessively sleepy during the day
  • Difficulty concentrating

Risk factors for sleep apnea

The risk factors for sleep apnea can affect anyone, including children. However, certain factors predispose you to this sleep disorder. Examples include:

  • Obesity. Excess body weight significantly increases your risk for sleep apnea. Most obese individuals have fat deposits around the upper airways, obstructing breathing. Your doctor may recommend that you lose excess pounds to reduce your risk of sleep apnea and other health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • Smoking. People who smoke are three times more likely to have sleep apnea than those who don’t. Smoking causes inflammation and fluid retention in your upper airway, partially obstructing breathing.

Other risk factors for sleep apnea include old age, nasal congestion, family history, and medical conditions such as congestive heart failure and hypertension.

If you have signs and symptoms such as loud snoring and daytime drowsiness, consider seeing your doctor at Matthew W. Shawl, MD, to determine if you have sleep apnea.