Sleep apnea is a type of sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or instances of shallow or infrequent breathing during sleep. Each pause in breathing is called an apnea and can last from at least 10 seconds to minutes, and may occur 5 to 30 times or more an hour.Similarly, each abnormally shallow breathing event is called a hypopnea. Sleep apnea is often diagnosed with an overnight sleep test called a polysomnogram, or “sleep study”.
There are three forms of sleep apnea:
Central(CSA) In CSA, breathing is interrupted by a lack of respiratory effort.
Obstructive (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea and occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat collapse, causing the opening through which air passes to disappear. In OSA, breathing is interrupted by a physical block to airflow despite respiratory effort, and snoring is common.
Complex or Mixed sleep apnea (i.e., a combination of central and obstructive) constituting 0.4%, 84% and 15% of cases respectively.
OSA is essentially a blockage of the upper airway. Part of the tissue running from the nose to the voicebox collapses, cutting off the passage of oxygen. Excess weight adds to the pressure on tube making the diameter of the opening even smaller.Obese adults are seven times more likely to develop OSA than their normal-weight peers.
Men with a neck circumference greater than 17 inches and women over 15 inches have a higher risk of OSA, WebMD reported.
According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute,sleep apnea affects not only adults but some children as well but the condition is more common the older you get. “As we get older, we lose tone and elasticity as part of the normal aging process,” says Dr. Matthew Mingrone, lead physician for EOS Sleep Centers in California specializing in sleep apnea and snoring issues. With that natural softening of the tissue in the throat, there is the higher likelihood of collapse, he says.
It is likely that you have inherited certain aspects of your physical makeup that increase sleep apnea risk, Mingrone says. If you have inherited narrow jaw from your parents, you may have a similar doctor’s visit in your future.
Alcohol is a muscle relaxant, so intake of it close to bedtime can lead to episodes of apnea, even in someone who does not have OSA. And in those with the disorder, alcohol can lengthen the duration of apnea episodes, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Due to anatomical differences in the airways of different ethnic groups both sleep apnea risk and sleep apnea severity vary by race.
According to a 2001 study, current smokers are 2.5 times more likely to have OSA than smokers and nonsmokers combined. “Smoking makes most airway tissue swell because it is an irritant,” says Mingrone. Swelling in the nose and the throat further reduces the space for air to flow through.
According to the American Lung Association,middle-aged men are twice as likely to have OSA than women of the same age. Mingrone says in his practice, about 15 to 20 percent of patients are females.