What Causes Sleep Apnea

No one deserves to wake up feeling exhausted, but if you're dealing with sleep apnea, this could be your daily reality. This serious sleep disorder can make it harder to get restful sleep at night and affect your overall health and wellbeing during the day. But what exactly causes someone to develop sleep apnea? In this blog post, we'll break down the causes of this condition so you can understand more about why some people are affected and how it can be managed. Let's dive in!

About Sleep Apnea

It's a sleep disorder in which normal breathing stops and starts during sleep. It can cause severe health problems, such as high blood pressure and stroke, and even affect overall brain function. It can disrupt the quality of life for those suffering from the syndrome and lead to potentially dangerous outcomes if left untreated. The lack of oxygen reaching the brain during apnea episodes exacerbates existing medical conditions or unleashes new ones.

Types of Sleep Apnea

While there are multiple types of this condition, the three most common are −

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea

  • Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

  • Complex/Mixed Sleep Apnea (CompSA)

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) occurs when a person’s upper airway repeatedly collapses during sleep and blocks the flow of air.

CSA is characterized by your respiratory control center not sending signals to your breathing muscles, leading to periods of shallow or stopped breathing.

CompSA is a combination of OSA and CSA, and it tends to be the most complex type.

While these forms of sleep apnea can differ in some ways, they all have serious implications for health and quality of life if left untreated.

Patients should consult with their doctor about options for treating their particular type of sleep apnea to achieve better sleep and overall wellbeing.

Different Reasons of Sleep Apnea

  • Obesity

Obesity is a major potential reason for both obstructive and central sleep apnea, two conditions that greatly perturb the quality of a person's sleep. In individuals with obesity, the presence of extra adipose tissue in their neck can lead to increased airway narrowing, thereby impairing breathing and leading to sleep apnea. Additionally, excessive abdominal fat can cause an increase in chest wall rigidity which further decreases respiratory muscle flexibility. As such, sleep apneic episodes are more common among those who have a higher body mass index. However, most people only recognize their struggle with sleep apnea after healthcare providers make the diagnosis due to its wide-ranging effects on cardiopulmonary health.

  • Age

Age is a major risk factor for sleep apnea, with the prevalence of the condition increasing significantly among the elderly. As people age, their airways narrow due to changes in muscle tone and other physical changes associated with aging. This narrowing has a homeostatic effect on your breathing ability and can result in periods of shallow breathing or not breathing during sleep. These nose-breathing episodes can have a profoundly negative impact on overall health by compromising sleep quality, leading to daytime fatigue, poor concentration and memory issues, high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease. Fortunately, treatments such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines can help alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life.

  • Genetics

Certain genetic variations can make that muscle more susceptible to relaxation during rest, causing the blockage and resulting in OSA. Researchers have found links between sleep apnea and familial genes related to head and neck structure, including how wide the throat is relative to the size and certain craniofacial abnormalities which may contribute to the collapse of the airway. Genetic syndromes such as Down Syndrome and Prader–Willi Syndrome are also linked with more severe sleep apnea, indicating a correlation between genetics and levels of severity among those who suffer from it. Identifying these correlations empowers researchers to create more personalized treatments for individuals, helping them achieve healthier rest cycles.

  • Nasal and sinus issues

Nasal and sinus issues can cause or worsen the risk of developing sleep apnea. Unwanted elements in the air, such as dust or smoke, can irritate the nasal passages, triggering an inflammatory response in the nose and sinuses, which can cause swelling. This blocks vital airways, reducing oxygen levels and leading to snoring, erratic breathing, loud gasps for breath, and even brief pauses in breathing during sleep. When this happens for extended periods every night, it can lead to severe health issues, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, fatigue and exhaustion throughout the day, depression and more. Taking measures to reduce exposure to allergens and contaminants in the home environment can help reduce these symptoms and thus provide better quality sleep.

  • Alcohol and drug use

When someone consumes drugs or alcohol, their airway relaxes even more than usual, making it difficult for them to breathe properly during sleep. This can cause the muscles used in breathing to become weakened, resulting in deep snoring and gasping for air during the night. Further problems arise as these breathing patterns strain the heart and continuously disturb its normal cycles. Over time, this can worsen existing health issues such as hypertension or cardiac arrhythmia and make these problems more difficult to treat. Due to this phenomenon, anyone who drinks alcohol or uses drugs should be aware of potential long-term effects on both their physical and mental wellbeing.

Treatment options for sleep Apnea

While there is no cure for the disorder itself, treatment options are available to help manage symptoms and bring relief to those living with the condition. Treatment usually involves lifestyle changes, such as avoiding alcohol and sleeping on one's side rather than their back. Other potential treatments include CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machines for mild-to-moderate cases or surgery for more severe cases where the obstruction in the airway can be corrected. Sleep apnea may not be curable, but with proper treatment, it certainly has less of an impact on daily life.

End Thoughts

If you have a risk factor for sleep apnea or think you might have sleep apnea, it’s important to see a doctor and get treated. Sleep apnea can cause more harm if left untreated, so don't wait to get help. Has this post helped you understand what causes sleep apnea? Do you think you might have sleep apnea? Share your story in the comments below.

Updated on: 20-Feb-2023


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