Causes of Sleep Apnea and How to Treat it

man Sleep Apnea

If you get a full night of sleep and still wake up exhausted, then you might have sleep apnea. This is even more true if you snore loudly enough to even wake yourself up at night.

The American Sleep Apnea Association reports that 25 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea are 4 times more likely to have a stroke and three times more likely to die prematurely.

But what are the causes of sleep apnea, and how can you prevent or at least ease its symptoms? There are three main types of sleep apnea that we will be discussing below.

Read on to see what are the causes of sleep apnea and how to treat it.

Three Types of Sleep Apnea

The three types of sleep apnea are caused due to completely different factors, and thus, a correct diagnosis is necessary to treat them.

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This is the most common form, and it’s caused when the throat muscles relax, causing an obstruction and normal breathing stop.
  • Central Sleep Apnea: This is related to the brain not sending the right signals to the muscles involved with breathing
  • Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome: This is a combination of the two above, where both the throat muscles are obstructed, and the brain signals interrupted

As you can see, the right diagnosis is crucial because the faster you can ease your symptoms, the less prone you would be to heart disease, stroke, and premature death.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The signs and symptoms of all three types of sleep apnea overlap. That’s why it’s so important to get it diagnosed properly by a professional. Also, if you snore loudly, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have sleep apnea.

Everyone who snores doesn’t have sleep apnea. But everyone who has sleep apnea does snore.

Other symptoms to watch out for are:

  • Periods when you stop breathing while sleeping (as reported by a partner)
  • Waking up with a dry mouth
  • Gasping for air while asleep
  • Morning headache
  • Daytime sleepiness 
  • Insomnia (difficulty falling asleep)
  • Irritability 

Causes of Sleep Apnea

Both kinds of sleep apnea have different causes, so we will look at them separately. As you might notice, some of these causes are related to lifestyle choices, and others are related to genetics.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Causes

  • Excess weight: Obesity causes excess fat deposits around your neck and throat, which can increase the possibility of obstructive sleep apnea
  • Aging – the older you get, the more susceptible you are to having obstructive sleep apnea
  • Smoking: If you smoke, you are 3 times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea due to increased inflammation and retention of fluids
  • Gender: Males are 3 times more likely to have sleep apnea than women
  • Family history: If someone in your family has obstructive sleep apnea, you are more likely to have it
  • Use of alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers: Anything that relaxes the muscles of your throat can worsen obstructive sleep apnea
  • Nasal congestion: If you have allergies, you might have difficulty breathing through your nose, increasing the likelihood of obstructive sleep apnea

Some medical conditions increase the likelihood of obstructive sleep apnea like Type 2 Diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, High blood pressure, and more.

Central Sleep Apnea Causes

Central Sleep Apnea is not as common as Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Some of the causes of sleep apnea to keep in mind are:

  • Aging: Same as obstructive sleep apnea, the older you are, the more likely it is you will have central sleep apnea
  • Gender: Men are more likely to suffer from central sleep apnea than women
  • Heart disorders: If you have congestive heart failure, your risk for central sleep apnea increases
  • Using narcotic pain medications increases the likelihood of central sleep apnea
  • Stroke: Having a stroke increases the likelihood of central sleep apnea

Why is Sleep Apnea Dangerous

The problem with sleep apnea isn’t only the fact that you are not sleeping enough, which can cause you to pay less attention to daytime activities, like driving a car or operating heavy machinery. That’s dangerous, of course.

But more than that, sleep apnea creates a host of other symptoms and conditions, which is quite dangerous for the person suffering from it.

People with sleep apnea are more likely to be irritable, depressed, or moody, during the daytime, because of insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness.

Also, as sleep apnea can affect both children and adults, children will have difficulty concentrating in school and focusing while writing exams.

If you have sleep apnea, you are also more likely to have liver problems, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart problems. As you can see, sleep apnea comes with a cluster of other more serious disorders.

Finally, it can also affect your relationship with your partner, who is probably suffering due to your loud snoring or other sleep apnea symptoms.

Treatment of Sleep Apnea

Once your doctor recommends that you visit a sleep disorder center, and you can get monitored overnight at a sleep center (or at home), your diagnosis of sleep apnea will be quite clear.

Many therapies can be used at that point to heal and treat sleep apnea, surgery being the most drastic option available.

There are others like supplemental oxygen, airflow devices, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), oral appliances, adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV), and more.

Some lifestyle remedies could be, losing weight, sleeping on your side, and taking vitamins at night to boost your vitality.

Of course, these will have to be evaluated by a sleep specialist and deemed appropriate for your level of sleep apnea and the other medical conditions you might be suffering from.

The causes of sleep apnea are well-known and can be used to ease or treat your symptoms, so you can once again have a good night of sleep.

Sleep Apnea is Treatable but Needs a Professional Diagnosis

The causes of sleep apnea are well-documented, but without overnight monitoring by a sleep center, it cannot be correctly diagnosed.

Losing weight, exercising, eating healthy, and avoiding alcohol are good steps to take until you can get to a sleep clinic.

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