The sleep disorder known as sleep apnea is characterized by brief or interrupted breathing cycles while sleeping. The word "Apnea" literally means "without breath." People with sleep apnea often snore loudly and frequently and may wake up feeling tired even after a full night's sleep.
There are two major types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), caused by a physical airway blockage, and central sleep apnea (CSA), which happens when the brain doesn't send the right signals to the muscles controlling breathing.
If sleep apnea isn't treated, it can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and problems with your memory. Treatment options include lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and avoiding alcohol and using devices such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, which help keep the airway open.
In serious cases, surgery may be needed to get rid of extra tissue in the throat or to move the jaw and tongue.
What is the Primary Cause of Sleep Apnea?
The primary causes of sleep apnea can be divided into two categories: physical blockages (obstructive sleep apnea) and problems with brain signals (central sleep apnea). Here are some of the main causes of each type of sleep apnea:
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA):
- Excess weight, obesity, and obesity-related fatty tissue in the neck
- Large tonsils or tongue
- Small airway due to a deviated septum, large adenoids, or other structural abnormalities in the nose or throat
- Alcohol and sedative use can relax the muscles in the throat and make it more likely to collapse during sleep
- Smoking, which can irritate and inflame the airway
Central sleep apnea (CSA):
- Heart problems, such as heart failure or irregular heartbeats, interfere with the normal transmission of brain signals to the muscles that control breathing
- Neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, or a stroke, can affect the brain's ability to regulate breathing
- Use of certain medications, such as opioids that can interfere with the brain's ability to control breathing
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- High altitude can disrupt normal breathing patterns and increase the risk of CSA
It's important to note that some people may have a combination of both OSA and CSA and that a combination of physical and neurological factors can also cause sleep apnea.
What Are the Other Main Causes of Sleep Apnea?
The main cause of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a physical blockage of the airway, typically caused by excess tissue in the throat, such as the tongue, tonsils, or fatty tissues. When the airway is blocked, the flow of air is restricted, and breathing becomes shallow or stops altogether. This can occur several times per hour throughout the night, causing the person to wake up briefly to restore normal breathing.
Central sleep apnea (CSA) is caused by a failure of the brain to transmit proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. It can be due to various underlying conditions, including heart or neurological problems, or it can occur due to using certain medications or drinking alcohol.
Risk factors for sleep apnea include obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, and family history. Other factors that can increase the likelihood of developing sleep apnea include age (it is more common in people over 40), male gender, and having a large neck size (17 inches or more in men and 16 inches or more in women).
In conclusion, sleep apnea is a complex disorder with multiple causes. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is primarily caused by physical blockages in the airway, such as excess weight, large tonsils or tongue, or a small airway due to structural abnormalities in the nose or throat.
On the other hand, CSA (central sleep apnea) is caused by problems with brain signals, such as heart problems, neurological conditions, certain medications, and high altitude.
Other factors that can increase the risk of developing sleep apnea include smoking, alcohol, sedative use, male gender, and age. Understanding the causes of sleep apnea is important to develop effective treatments and improving the quality of life for those who suffer from this disorder.