What is sleep apnea?


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Know the basics

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly interrupted during sleep. As a result, organs of people with sleep apnea, especially brain may not get enough oxygen and  the quality of sleep is poor, which makes patient tired during the day.

There are two main types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea:the more common form caused by a blockage of the airway.
  • Central sleep apnea is not caused by the blocked airway but caused by the instability in the respiratory control center. The result is that brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe.

How common is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is extremely common. It commonly occurs in more males than females, about 2-3 man comparing to 1 woman. It can affect patients at any age, but occurs more common in adults at middle-age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

The common symptoms of sleep apnea are:

  • Loud snoring.
  • Another person witnessed episodes of breathing interruption.
  • Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath.
  • Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat.
  • Morning headache.
  • Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia).
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia).
  • Attention problems.
  • Irritability.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Snoring loud that can disturb the sleep of others or yourself.
  • Shortness of breath, gasping for air or choking that awakens you from sleep.
  • Intermittent pauses in your breathing during sleep.
  • Excessive daytime drowsiness.
  • Fatigued, sleepy and irritable.

Know the causes

What causes sleep apnea?

Causes of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea are different as follow:

  • For obstructive sleep apnea, when the muscles in the back of throat relax, airway narrows and closes as when breathing. This may low the oxygen in patient body. Inability to breathe is sensed and brain take patient from sleep to reopen the airway. This awakening is usually so brief that normally people with sleep apnea don’t remember it.
  • For central sleep apnea, patient brain fails to transmit signals to breathing muscles. This make muscle not breathe for a short period of time. Patient may awaken with shortness of breath or have a difficult time getting to sleep or staying asleep.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for sleep apnea?

There are many risk factors for sleep apnea, such as:

For obstructive sleep apnea

  • Being male.
  • Excessing weight.
  • Being over age 40.
  • Having a high Neck circumference (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women).
  • Having large tonsils, a large tongue, or a small jaw bone.
  • Having a family history of sleep apnea.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD.
  • Use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers.
  • Smoking.
  • Nasal congestion.

Central sleep apnea

  • Being middle-aged or older.
  • Heart disorders.
  • Using narcotic pain medications, such as methadone.
  • Stroke.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

Tests to detect sleep apnea may include:

  • Nocturnal polysomnography.
  • Home sleep tests: measuring your heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow and breathing patterns.

How is sleep apnea treated?

Treatments for obstructive sleep apnea may include:

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP):Using a device to deliver air pressure through a mask placed over patient nose when sleeping.
  • Bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP): using a device similar to CPAP but deliver a higher pressure when inhaling and lower pressure when exhaling.
  • Expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP): Using a small, single-use devices before going to sleep that allows air to move freely in, but when exhaling, air must go through small holes in the valve.
  • Oral appliances:using an oral appliance keeping your throat open. Oral appliances may be easier to use than CAPA.
  • Surgery: after other treatments have failed, including:

Tissue removal:  Tissue is removed from the rear of mouth and top of throat of patient. Tonsils and adenoids usually are removed.

  • Jaw repositioning.
  • Implants plastic rods into the soft palate after you’ve received local anesthetic.
  • Creating a new air passageway (tracheostomy a metal or plastic tube is inserted.
  • Nasal surgery to remove polyps or straighten a crooked partition between nostrils.
  • Weight-loss surgery

Treatments for central sleep apnea may include:

  • Treatment for associated medical problems: including heart or neuromuscular disorders that may cause sleep apnea.
  • Supplemental oxygen:Using supplemental oxygen when sleeping.
  • Adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV): Using an airflow device normalizing breathing pattern of patient and prevent pauses in breathing.
  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).
  • Bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP).

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage sleep apnea?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with sleep apnea:

  • Lose excess weight.
  • Exercise.
  • Avoid alcohol and certain medications such as tranquilizers and sleeping pills.
  • Sleep on your side or abdomen rather than on your back.
  • Keep your nasal passages open at night.
  • Stop smoking, if you’re a smoker.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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