Sleep Apnea: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a health condition that involves an interruption in breathing during sleep. Sleep apnea can affect the quality of your sleep and the sleep of those around you. Within the UK, an average of 1.5 million people are affected by sleep apnea making it a common, yet dangerous condition.

If you think you have sleep apnea please seek medical attention from your GP or an otolaryngologist for a diagnosis and further medical support.

There are 3 main types of sleep apnea. These are:

  • Central sleep apnea
  • Complex sleep apnea
  • Obstructive sleep apnea

Central sleep apnea

Central sleep apnea is the repeated interruptions of breathing during sleep causing repeated stopping and starting of breathing. Central sleep apnea is caused by brain signals not being received by the muscles to help you breathe during sleep. One of the potential causes of this is being at an altitude, as differing oxygen levels in the atmosphere can cause disruptions to breathing. Another thing that can cause central sleep apnea is certain medications.

Some common symptoms of central sleep apnea are:

  • Abrupt awakening with shortness of breath
  • Snoring
  • Observed breathing stops while sleeping
  • Insomnia
  • Daytime sleepiness

Potential treatments for central sleep apnea are a reduction in opioid medication, addressing associated medical conditions or continuous positive airway pressure, which involves wearing an oxygen mask with a pump while sleeping.

If left untreated, this is a serious condition that can eventually cause heart failure and strokes.

Complex sleep apnea

A less common form of sleep apnea is complex sleep apnea. This is sleep apnea occurring more than once in a period of less than five hours. The underlying cause of complex sleep apnea is still unknown.

On average, complex sleep apnea can take 4-8 weeks of continuous positive airway pressure before results can be seen, for this reason, adaptive servo-ventilation may be a quicker solution.

Obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea often occurs when the throat muscles and tissues relax during sleep, causing difficulty breathing. Common causes for obstructive apnea are age, weight and underlying health conditions.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea and the symptoms are an interruption of sleep due to shortness of breath, snoring and tiredness during the day.

Anyone with obstructive sleep apnoea needs a thorough assessment to determine the severity of the sleep apnoea and identify the possible obstructive sites in the head and neck region. Common causes include a blocked nose; large tonsils (and adenoids particularly in children), excess fat around the neck, a redundant and flabby soft palate, and obstructions in and around the voice box (larynx), anything compressing on the windpipe e.g. a large goitre. Sometimes a CPAP machine may be recommended but it is always best to be sure there is no physical blockage before using a CPAP machine.

Contact ENT Sheffield today

For further sleep apnea advice, assessments or treatment, don’t hesitate to get in touch with ENT Sheffield today. Our friendly team will be happy to answer your queries and provide you with the help you need.