Mountain Ear Nose and Throat Associates

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What is Sleep Apnea?

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Sleep apnea is a strange condition; one that occurs in the middle of the night, when those who experience it are unaware of what is happening. The hidden nature of sleep apnea makes it incredibly difficult to diagnose, with people with the condition left to try and identify the condition via symptoms they experience primarily in their waking hours when the connection to their sleep is incredibly difficult to establish. To find out more about this silent condition and the impact it can have on a person’s life, read on.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that occurs during sleep. People with the condition frequently stop breathing while sleeping, often without being aware.

Superficially, sleep apnea sounds absolutely terrifying; the mere idea that a vital bodily process could simply cease when the person is unaware of what is happening due to being unconscious, is incredibly disturbing. However, sleep apnea is not quite as dangerous as it sounds: the body has defense systems that kick in and cause breathing to restart almost immediately. For most people with sleep apnea, their breathing only pauses for around 10 seconds before resuming.

How many times do people with sleep apnea stop breathing per night?

In cases of severe sleep apnea, a person may stop breathing over 300 times per night. The type of sleep apnea the person is suffering will also influence how many times they stop breathing each night.

What are the types of sleep apnea?

  • The most common form of sleep apnea is Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which is commonly abbreviated to OSA. This primarily occurs when the soft tissue located at the back of the throat collapses during sleep, temporarily obstructing the airway. As the cause of OSA is physical, many people with this form of sleep apnea will seek treatment with an ear, nose and throat doctor.
  • Alternatively, a person may experience central sleep apnea or CSA. In this case, the physical act of breathing is not blocked by collapsing tissue. Instead, the brain fails to send signals to instigate the breathing process. CSA is often caused by an underlying medical condition, so management of CSA may be administered as part of an overall treatment plan for the primary illness.

Is sleep apnea dangerous?

OSA in and of itself is not dangerous. When breathing stops, the brain is alerted to the fact this has happened and will send a signal that allows breathing to resume - for example, if someone has rolled onto their back (which makes soft tissue collapse in the throat more likely), they may be temporarily woken so they can roll over and clear their airway.

However, sleep apnea is linked to a variety of health conditions. While sleep apnea itself is not dangerous, its symptoms can be, due in no small part to the lack of quality sleep that those who experience the condition are subjected to. Furthermore, people with sleep apnea are at a higher risk of experiencing a range of severe health conditions.

As CSA is often related to underlying conditions, it can be more dangerous in combination with the primary illness.

Sleep apnea is a hidden condition that increases the likelihood of a person developing serious health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease. As a result, if you suspect you are experiencing sleep apnea, it is important to seek further advice from a medical professional or an ENT as soon as possible.