Girl sleeping peacefully after sleep apnea treatment.

The Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

Apr 16, 2020

Sleep apnea refers to a condition that affects breathing while sleeping. The victim experiences repeated stop and start cycles of their breathing. It is characterized by symptoms such as snoring, being sleepy during daytime and experiencing restless sleep.

The involuntary pauses during sleep may be due to signalling issues in the victim’s brain, or the airway may be blocked.

These breathing pauses are involuntary, and you can sleep through them all without ever knowing. However, some people will take deep breaths when the airway is open, snort or wake up suddenly when experiencing a feeling of choking, smothering or gasping for air.

Types of Sleep Apnea

Central Sleep Apnea – This type of sleep apnea comes along when your brain fails to send the correct signals to the muscles controlling breathing. The result is a rugged inhalation rhythm. Causes for this form include:

  • Being elderly
  • Being male – affects more men than women
  • Having heart disease
  • Use of long term opioids
  • Having ever had a stroke

Obstructive Sleep Apnea – It most commonly occurring type of sleep apnea. It arises when the brain sends signals to the throat muscles, but they fail to respond, and its muscles relax, which obstructs the airway. This limits airflow hence difficulty breathing. Risk factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Thick neck girth/circumference = narrow airways
  • Inherited narrow airways
  • Being male and elderly
  • Being a smoker
  • Use of sedatives, alcohol and tranquillizers
  • Nasal congestion

Complex/Mixed sleep apnea – Alias treatment-emergent sleep apnea; this disorder comes as a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea. Risk factors for this type constitute of causes from the other two forms.

This disorder is potentially fatal if ignored. Faulty breathing during sleep means there is not sufficient airflow into the brain and other vital organs. Sleep apnea can put you at risk of heart disease or a stroke.

It’s crucial to always see a doctor if you exhibit even the slightest symptoms of the condition to prevent further complications.

What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

You might be unaware of the symptoms if you have the disorder because they mostly occur during sleep. It’s possible for another person to notice the symptoms.

The condition causes the victim to suddenly gasp and grunt for air, wakes up and then gets back to sleep. During the daytime, the victim exhibits dizziness and day time sleeping due to uncomfortable nights.

The most common nighttime symptoms include:

  • Loud Snoring
  • Dry mouth after sleep
  • Insomnia
  • Gasping and struggling for air when asleep
  • Going to the bathroom severally in a single night
  • Restless sleep

Daytime symptoms include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sore throat in the morning
  • Heartburns
  • Morning headache
  • Irritability and general restlessness
  • Decreased sex drive and/or erectile dysfunction
  • Frequent naps

Treatment and Diagnosis


Our dentists at Dr. Patel Dentistry determine if you have a condition by evaluating your sleep history as well as symptoms you exhibit. This information is best provided by someone with whom you share a bed or home. After the diagnosis, you are sent to a sleep disorder centre where a specialist determines the need for supplementary assessment.

You can be assessed via night monitoring at the sleep centre overnight or home sleep tests. The following tests are viable.

Nocturnal polysomnography – You will be hooked to a piece of equipment that continually monitors your breathing patterns, heart and brain and lung activity. Your arms and legs actions, plus blood oxygen fluctuations are also monitored in this test.

Home Tests – On most occasions, you are provided with CPAP masks to take home. This test enables you to keep track of your airflow status, heart and lungs performance and blood oxygen. Abnormal results allow your doctor to correctly prescribe a treatment with no need for extra tests.

In the cases of obstructive sleep apnea, you might be referred to a nose, ear and throat technician. They check for blockages in the throat and nose that could be causing breathing obstruction. Central sleep apnea can be diagnosed by a cardiologist or a nervous system specialist.

Sleep Apnea Treatment

CPAP – CPAP solutions are widely available and are reliable methods to treat sleep apnea. It works by delivering adequate air pressure through your nose to keep your upper airway open while sleeping. While choosing this form of treatment, it’s good to select a mask that offers you the comfort you need.

Oral Appliances – Although they are not as effective as CPAP in controlling sleep apnea, oral appliances such as night mouth guards can control severe snoring and minor obstructive sleep apnea. They are also easier to use compared to CPAP masks.

Other pressure devices – Having difficulties with the CPAP machine doesn’t mean your condition is untreatable. Additional airway pressure equipment such as Bi-level Positive Air Pressure (BPAP) is available for use. The machine adjusts air pressure when you inhale and exhale to create a smooth airflow while you sleep.

Surgical Therapies

They comprise:

  • Tissue removal at the back of the mouth and upper throat
  • Shrinking of the mouth and throat tissues using radiofrequency ablation
  • Jaw repositioning to create more breathing space
  • Plastic rods implants in the soft palate
  • Nerve stimulator insertion
  • Tracheostomy – a new airway passage is created through your neck. This procedure is done when your condition is fatal, and other methods have utterly failed.

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