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Types, Symptoms & Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Under most normal conditions, air flows smoothly from the mouth and nose into the lungs at all times. But with Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), breathing stops involuntarily for brief periods during sleep. These times, when breathing stops, are called apneic episodes or apnea. 

There are three types of sleep apnea:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Here, airflow is obstructed by an airway that has become narrowed, blocked, or floppy. There are several types of sleep apnea, but of these, OSA is the most common and is more likely to occur in older adults or those who are overweight. 

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

In this kind of apnea, there is no physical blockage, but the brain stops signaling the respiratory muscles to breathe.

Mixed Sleep Apnea

This kind is a combination of CSA and OSA.

OSA might interrupt normal breathing through the night when the flow of air stops because there isn’t enough space in the airway for air to flow or the throat becomes too narrow. One common sign of OSA is snoring, which is caused by air being squeezed through a narrowed space. 

Sleep apnea causes periods of reduced oxygen supply to the brain and other parts of the body. Besides, the resulting poor sleep pattern creates a kind of brain fog and lack of clarity in the morning. People with sleep apnea may also experience bouts of drowsiness through the day, headaches that won’t go away, feeling disgruntled, forgetful, and drowsy. Other symptoms can also include hyperactivity, especially in children, low libido, poor performance at school, extreme depression, and edema or leg swelling. 

The risk for OSA increases in children with large tonsils and adenoids, women with a collar size of 16 inches or more, and people who have large tongues that might obstruct the airway. Obstructive sleep apnea is also common in men with a collar size of 17 inches or more, a narrow palate or airway that collapses more easily or those who have retrognathia. This is when the lower jaw is shorter than the upper jaw.

If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause health issues like diabetes, strokes, heart disease, and hypertension. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to prevent serious complications like these.

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