What is sleep apnea?

What is sleep apnea?

March 9, 2020 11:36 am Published by

You might not have heard of sleep apnea (or apnoea) – but you may well know more about it than you think. Sleep apnea is when a person’s airways become blocked or constricted while they sleep, often causing ragged breathing and snoring. The condition might not sound that serious, but it can have a big effect on quality of life. That’s because sleep apnea can interrupt normal sleep rhythms, and lead to an increased risk of developing other health conditions. Read on for more about sleep apnea and snoring, and what can be done to fix it.

Types and causes

There are two types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is much more common. Here, the walls of the airway along the upper part of the throat relax and collapse while sleeping. These muscles support the soft tissue structures – palate, tonsils, tongue, and throat walls. Without support the airways become blocked, and your breathing pauses momentarily, until you wake up enough for the airways to return to normal and for breathing to resume. The second type is called central sleep apnea – instead of the airway being physically blocked, the brain is at fault here, as it fails to tell the breathing muscles to do their job. This serious form of sleep apnea is usually associated with other illnesses like heart failure, and is much rarer.


The most common sleep apnea symptom is also one of the most frustrating – snoring. There could also be heavy breathing and fits of gasping or snorting, while breathing tries to correct itself. These happen because the lack of oxygen to the brain triggers a wake-up call, taking the sufferer out of deep sleep and at times waking them up completely. In the short term, this has the effect of re-opening the airways to normal dimensions, and regulating breathing. In the long term however, the sudden changes in blood oxygen levels can cause other conditions to develop, such as high blood pressure (due to the strain places on the cardiovascular system) and a heightened risk of heart attack or abnormal heartbeats. So, it needs to be taken seriously.

Other symptoms

If you have sleep apnea, you might not even know it. Often the cycle of sleeping and waking happens quickly, and doesn’t involve fully waking up. However, it’s much more likely your partner is very aware of it! There are several other symptoms that you might experience also. A dry mouth or sore throat in the morning is common, as is a feeling of fatigue – so you may find yourself falling asleep during the day very easily. You might also be short-tempered or depressed – again, with the same underlying cause.

Who does it affect?

The condition is more common in men, especially aged over 40 or overweight. Or, you might naturally have a narrow throat. Perhaps unexpectedly, those with wide necks often have narrower airways. Men with neck s sized at 17 inches or above are at a greater risk of developing sleep apnea. It might also be the case that you have enlarged tonsils or adenoids.


It’s worth noting that not everyone who snores has sleep apnea! However, you should definitely get it checked out by a medical professional such as at Drs. Nicolas & Asp. Once it’s diagnosed, treatment revolves around finding a way to keep those airways open. It might be as simple losing weight through a few lifestyle changes. If that’s not the solution, you might need a breathing device like a PAP (positive airway pressure) machine. Depending on the severity of the condition, and if other solutions have not worked, surgery may be considered. This is more likely to be the course of treatment if you have a related problem such as enlarged tonsils, or an existing nasal air passage blockage. Seeing a medical professional is certainly the first step in resolving your condition and getting your sleep back!

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