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Exploring the Different Types of Sleep Apnea

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Exploring the Different Types of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a respiratory condition where patients stop and start breathing several times during the night. Because its tell-tale symptoms generally happen during sleep, many patients remain undiagnosed with this condition.

While the symptoms might remain the same, the underlying causes behind sleep apnea can vary. Understanding these causes are the first step to prescribing treatment and judging the severity of the condition. 

There are three different kinds of sleep apnea and medical practitioners need to identify the condition the patient presents with before moving on to the treatment stage. Read on to find out what these 3 different types of sleep apnea are, and how they can be diagnosed and treated.

normal breathing and obstructive Sleep apnea Singapore

Source: Mayoclinic

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), is the most prevalent type of sleep apnea. As the name suggests, it is caused by repeated obstruction to the normal breathing passages during sleep. These obstructions are caused by the collapse of the soft tissues in your mouth.

When the obstruction is partial rather than complete, it can also cause snoring as the tongue and soft palate rattle. While snoring is one of the symptoms of OSA, it’s important to note that not everyone with OSA will present with snoring.

OSA is more common in males and the risk factor increases with age. People with high BMIs, pregnant women, and those who sleep on their backs are also more prone to have OSA. Some of the other symptoms of OSA include waking up repeatedly during sleep, feeling tired when you wake up, gasping for air during sleep, headaches, dry mouth, or loss of concentration when awake. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea treatment involves clearing the obstruction to your air passages. In some cases, lifestyle changes such as losing weight or becoming more physically active can help with the condition. In other cases, surgery might be required to reshape the airway. 

Patients can also consider medical devices such as a CPAP machine or sleep oral appliances that can help with OSA.

Patient with medical device Sleep apnea Singapore

Central Sleep Apnea

When no obstruction to the airway is observed, sleep apnea could be caused by Central Sleep Apnea (CSA). CSA is a neurological condition that occurs when the brain is not sending the right messages to your breathing muscles during sleep.

While the symptoms may be very similar, CSA is much more rare and more difficult to treat. Some causes of CSA may include reactions to certain drugs, high altitudes, congestive heart failure, and brain infections. Diagnosis for CSA usually involves ruling out OSA in the patient.

Once diagnosed, CSA can be treated by identifying the underlying issues. Getting a consult from a cardiologist and running a brain scan to find potential infections are some of the ways practitioners can get to the source of the problem. 

CPAP machines can also help to some extent with CSA, but a more specialised BiPAP machine, which delivers air to your lungs, might be needed to help patients.

Complex Sleep Apnea

Researchers have also identified a third type of sleep apnea known as Complex Sleep Apnea. It is a combination of both OSA and CSA. 

Patients with Complex Sleep Apnea may respond somewhat to traditional OSA treatments, but often the symptoms do not resolve fully. Further medical  interventions may be necessary to help the patient get a good night's sleep.

Many people around the world might be suffering from sleep apnea without being diagnosed. It can lead to loss of productivity at work, constant headaches, discomfort, and feeling tired the whole day. Diagnosis is the first step to getting better, so if you suspect that you or someone you know presents with symptoms of sleep apnea, the recommended course of action would be to visit an experienced ENT to get a specialists’ opinion.

Want to find out more about sleep apnea in Singapore, ENT surgery, common ear, nose, and throat conditions, and paediatric ENT? Contact us today with your queries and we’ll get back to you.

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