What Are the Different Types of Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea causes a person to stop breathing many times throughout the night. It can affect anyone, whether young or old. Learn the different types of sleep apnea that you may suffer from.

Sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissue in the back of your throat falls over your airway when you lay down to sleep. Without oxygen moving into your lungs, you temporarily stop breathing. The brain recognizes this condition and tries to reverse it. You wake with a start. Each time you wake up, the soft tissue moves and you can breathe again.

This actually describes the first type of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It is the most common type of sleep apnea we suffer from. When the airway is obstructed, the body’s organs, including the brain, are deprived of precious oxygen. This can often lead to problems with different systems in the body.

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by obstructions in the back of the throat or in the roof of the mouth. In children, sleep apnea is often the result of enlarged tonsils and adenoids. This excessive tissue blocks the flow of air and leads to snoring and constant wakefulness at night. Children’s behavior may change as a result of their lack of sleep: bed wetting, sleepiness during the day and poor performance in school.

Adults that suffer from obstructive sleep apnea have large floppy soft palates or large uvulas. The extra tissue here flops down when you sleep and covers the airway. If you have a small airway, this can cause sleep apnea symptoms as well.

The other type of sleep apnea is called central sleep apnea (CSA). Central sleep apnea has to do with the central nervous system which includes the brain and the spinal cord. It is not as common as obstructive sleep apnea but it does occur.

The airway is not the problem here. Instead, a problem within the respiratory center of the brain causes a malfunction. As you sleep, the muscles responsible for respiration are not given the signal to move by the brain. As a result, your breathing stops.

Central sleep apnea usually occurs when there is a disease present that affects the brain or spinal cord in some way. Brain injuries, spinal surgery, neurological disease are all possible reasons why you develop central sleep apnea. The symptoms of central sleep apnea are similar to those experiences with obstructive sleep apnea.

Mixed sleep apnea is not a different type of sleep apnea but a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea. Proper diagnosis by your physician is important to determine the exact type of sleep apnea you suffer from.

There are two main types of sleep apnea, obstructive and central. Each has a different root cause but similar symptoms. Diagnosis is done through sleep studies.