Sleep apnoea is a condition in which a person stops breathing, either completely or somewhat, over and over again during sleep. These interruptions in breathing can be several seconds or even minutes long. The pauses in breathing disturb the normal sleep pattern and, if they are long enough, drop the oxygen level in the blood, eventually leading to other medical problems.
There are two main types of Sleep Apnoea:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnoea
- Central Sleep Apnoea
In Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA), the snorer is more or less strangled regularly during sleep. Imagine the part between the back of the nose and the voice-box as a hose pipe. Right, now imagine this hose pipe being frequently narrowed or closed off by negative pressure as the air inside is sucked out repeatedly. Something very similar happens to the air passage when a person has OSA.
In reality, the negative pressure happens when the snorer breaths in. The air passage closes off because the muscles holding it open are less active during sleep. Also, fatty tissue on the outside of the “hose pipe” can narrow the passage, making it easier to get blocked. Being overweight by only a few kilograms can significantly increase your chances of snoring, that can then develop into OSA.
When the air passage closes off, the snorer struggles to breathe and wakes up – gasping for air. The obstruction is then over, and normal breathing can carry on, allowing the snorer to fall asleep again. This happens over and over again during the night.
We all have heard a sleeping person snoring loudly, and then becomes quite, and starts breathing again with a gasp or snort. This is the classic description of a person with OSA. If severe enough, symptoms can include mood swings, depression, feeling tired, even when you’ve had plenty of sleep, and morning headaches.
The second and less common type of sleep apnoea is Central Sleep Apnoea (CSA) in which there are pauses in breathing during sleep without obstruction to the air passage. In this instance, the brain “forgets” to send signals to the lungs to breathe. Since blockage of the air passage is not required to produce CSA, snoring is usually not a major symptom and may not be at all. CSA is usually the result of other medical conditions like some brain disorders, heart failure, drugs like sleeping tablets, or narcotics that restrain brain activity.
Both OSA and CSA can occur in the same person. When this happens, OSA is usually more severe than CSA.
Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea:
[Illustration of listed symptoms]
- Abrupt awakenings caused by gasping or choking
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