Causes of Sleep Apnea

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What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)?

Sleep apnea is a disorder that results in periods of shallow or paused breathing during sleep. While this is a very difficult condition to diagnose, it is easier to identify when you understand the common causes. Let’s take a closer look at circumstances that might lead to developing sleep apnea.

Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Of the two types of sleep apnea – obstructive and central – obstructive is by far the most common. As the name suggests, sleep is disrupted because the airways are obstructed or blocked in some way.

This often happens when there is excess tissue creating an obstruction in the throat, soft palate, or both. Narrow airways and/or excess tissue may occur due to:

  • Obesity
  • A large tongue
  • Enlarged or inflamed tonsils
  • Recessed chin
  • Large uvula
  • Smoking (which causes inflammation)

Airways can also become blocked because there is not enough muscle mass or control to keep the airways open. Therefore, the airways essentially collapse on themselves for periods of time. The causes of this problem can include:

  • Aging
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Use of a sedative
  • Medical conditions that cause loss of muscle mass

While obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is more common among adults, it is important to understand that healthy adults and children of all ages can suffer from this condition. For example, even a perfectly healthy child that does not have tonsillitis, but does have tonsils that are somewhat enlarged, can suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.

Causes of Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is much less common. With this disorder, the breathing is not stopped because of blockages in the airway but because the brain is not sending the appropriate signals to properly control breathing. Common causes of this type of sleep apnea include:

  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Medications
  • Other medical conditions

Any medical condition that can affect the brainstem’s ability to transmit necessary signals for controlling breathing can lead to central sleep apnea. Heart failure, stroke, and other conditions can cause what is known as a Cheyne-Stokes breathing pattern. This refers to a gradual increase and then decrease in breathing effort. There are also medications, such as Avinza and codeine sulfate, that can lead to irregular breathing patterns.

Effects of Sleep Apnea

Regardless of the causes of sleep apnea, the effects are quite similar. The body because deprived of oxygen and much-needed deep sleep. People who suffer from either type of apnea often experience excessive fatigue throughout the day, difficulty concentrating, headaches, and other signs of sleep deprivation.

Seeking Treatment for Sleep Apnea

If you are experiencing signs of sleep apnea and/or you feel that you are at a high risk for the condition because of the causes you have read here, you should seek treatment as early as possible. A sleep clinic can provide you with the breathing devices, exercises, and other methods of treatment necessary to help you breath easier and get a better night’s rest. Once you are enjoying deep sleep each night, you will likely see dramatic improvement in the way you feel throughout the day.

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