What Causes Sleep Apnea?

Health Education
4 mins
What Causes Sleep Apnea?

Do you wake up at night trying to catch your breath? Or, perhaps your sleeping partner notices you gasping for air, but you don’t remember waking up. The waking period from sleep apnea only lasts 10-30 seconds. If any of these scenarios sound familiar, you may ask yourself, “What causes sleep apnea?”

Sleep apnea can lead to a disruptive sleep pattern. As a result, individuals with sleep apnea do not get enough restful sleep. This article will discuss the causes and treatment of sleep apnea. And, we’ll discuss how BASS Medical Group can help you get the good night’s sleep you deserve.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

There are two primary types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Complex sleep apnea, also known as treatment-emergent sleep apnea, is a third less common type.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

90% of adults with sleep apnea are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. OSA happens when the trachea (windpipe) is blocked by tissue in the throat, tongue, or uvula. Due to the blockage of airflow, snoring is a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs in children as well.

There are additional causes and risk factors that can complicate obstructive sleep apnea. 

  • Obesity - Over 50% of people with obstructive sleep apnea are either overweight or obese.
  • Having a Thick Neck - More tissue in the neck leaves less room for air to pass.
  • Narrow Throat - People with narrow airways have a more challenging time breathing at night
  • Male vs. Female - Males are 2 to 3 times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than women. However, women who are post-menopausal or overweight are at higher risk of having obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Deviated Septum - A deviated septum is when your septum leans too far to either the right or left side of the face.
  • Age - Obstructive sleep apnea gets progressively worse with age.
  • Genetics and Family History - If you have a family history of OSA, it’s more likely that you will develop it as well.
  • Alcohol Use and Sedatives - Alcohol and sedatives are depressants and slow your central nervous system. Substances can cause the muscles in your throat to relax, which makes it harder for air to pass through.
  • Smoking - Smokers are three times more likely than non-smokers to develop sleep apnea. Additionally, smoking inflames the tissue in your throat.
  • Nasal Congestion - If you have nasal congestion, try nasal strips or dilators to widen the passageway.
  • Medical Conditions - Several medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and stroke, can exacerbate the chances of having OSA.

Central Sleep Apnea

The central nervous system affects central sleep apnea. When someone has CSA, their brain has trouble telling their body to breathe. As a result, these vital signals are not sent, causing the patient to wake up and gasp for air. Most instances of central sleep apnea are idiopathic or unclear. In addition, complex sleep apnea happens when patients have both obstructive and central sleep apnea. 

Although OSA and CSA are different, they share a few of the same causes, such as age and sex. The hallmark difference between the two is central sleep apnea’s relation to the central nervous system. Various illnesses, medications, and environmental factors can exacerbate central sleep apnea.

  • Heart Disorders - Heart problems can worsen the effects of central sleep apnea.
  • Narcotic Pain Medicine - Opioids such as doctor-prescribed fentanyl and hydrocodone block pain receptors worsen central sleep apnea.
  • Stroke survivors and patients with heart or kidney failure are at risk of developing both CSB-CSA. 

Sleep Apnea Treatment

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Mild, less severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea can be treated with lifestyle changes. Some changes doctors will suggest include losing weight, quitting smoking, and sleeping in an upright position.

More severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea are treated surgically. The most common treatment device for obstructive sleep apnea is the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mask. As the name suggests, the mask assists the user by providing constant oxygen. There are also oral appliances that are meant to keep the throat open. 

There are a few options for surgical treatment. Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is a procedure where the surgeon removes tissue from the rear and top of the mouth, giving air more room to pass through. Another surgical method is tissue shrinkage through radiofrequency ablation. Further, a surgeon could elect to reposition a patient’s jaw through maxillomandibular advancement. The surgeon creates space behind the tongue and soft palate.

Other surgical treatments for obstructive sleep apnea include implants, nerve stimulation, and tracheostomy.

Combat Sleep Apnea

Medical professionals have many ways to treat central sleep apnea. The most effective way to combat CSA is to deal with the specific medical disorders present in the patient.

Additionally, patients can use supplemental oxygen at night. Changes to medication could also be beneficial. Unfortunately, due to the idiopathic nature of CSA, there are fewer treatment options.

BASS Medical Group is here to help you diagnose and treat your sleep apnea. If you suffer from disruptive sleep, please call us at (925) 350-4044. Our sleep medicine experts will provide you with the care that you deserve. We value our patients and aim to provide the highest level of quality care. Get connected with a healthier you.