Sleep apnea is a serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts while you sleep. There are three main types of sleep apnea-obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea (CSA) and complex sleep apnea. With OSA, the muscles in your upper airway relax while you’re sleeping which causes your airways to become blocked. With CSA, your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. Complex sleep apnea occurs when someone has both OSA and CSA. As a result of all these conditions, your breathing may pause for 10 seconds or longer while sleeping until your reflexes wake you and initiate your breathing to restart. This process continues multiple times throughout the night.
The prevalence of sleep apnea increases with age and you are at greater risk for development of this condition if you are male, have a large neck circumference, a high body mass index (BMI), larger tonsils or are a smoker. Symptoms of sleep apnea include, dry mouth, extreme fatigue, gasping for breath while sleeping, irritability, loud snoring and morning headaches.
Your doctor may make an evaluation based on your symptoms and sleep history. Diagnosis of sleep apnea usually involves participating in a diagnostic sleep test. This evaluation observes your breathing and other body functions during sleep. Due to the repetitive interruption in sleep and drop in oxygen levels, untreated sleep apnea can cause serious health problems.