Understanding the Causes of Sleep Apnea

Feb 12 • 2 minute read

For some, snoring is merely an inconvenient late-night distraction. What many don’t realize, however, is that snoring may be an indication of a deeper health issue – sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a common disorder where breathing repeatedly stops and starts while a person sleeps. This condition can often go undiscovered for some time, but specific symptoms can indicate you may need to undergo a sleep study.

There are three types of sleep apnea:

Obstructive sleep apnea is most common and occurs when the soft tissue at the back of the throat obstructs the airway when it relaxes. This causes people to snore loudly.

Central sleep apnea is less common. It occurs when communication from the central nervous system fails, whereby the brain doesn’t trigger the muscles that control breathing. Snoring is not often associated with central sleep apnea.

Mixed/Complex sleep apnea is a combination of central and obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea Causes

When determining if sleep apnea is the cause of your snoring or sleep disruption, there are several risk factors your medical or dental professional may look for. These include:

  • Body composition – Those with excess body fat are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea. Those with neck circumferences larger than 15.75 inches are also at an increased risk.
  • Gender – Males, particularly those with a family history of sleep apnea, are more likely to experience it themselves.
  • Habits – Older smokers have a much higher risk of suffering from sleep apnea than those who do not smoke.

Unlike obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea is often correlated with severe illness, such as stroke, neurological disease, heart disease, and brain stem injuries. It is also more common amongst males, as well as those over the age of 65, but anyone being treated for an existing medical condition should consider being evaluated for sleep apnea.

Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

There are a variety of treatment methods for each of the three types of sleep apnea, ranging from simple at-home exercises to more advanced surgery. Treatment is often prescribed by your dental health professional or a physician who specializes in sleep disorders. Both medical practitioners often work together to determine whether a dental device can address the issue, which is typical for obstructive sleep apnea sufferers.

If you suspect you may be suffering from sleep apnea, contact a professional who specializes in sleep dentistry. They have the training and expertise needed to accurately diagnose your condition and recommend the best treatment for you.

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