What’s the Difference Between Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Central Sleep Apnea?

We usually hear sleep apnea being talked about as a condition that’s signified by loud, chronic snoring. But that’s not always the case. When a person suffers from obstructive apnea, they snore as air pushes past a totally or partially blocked airway, with the breathing interruptions happening at least 5 and sometimes in excess of 30 times an hour. If you share your bed with someone who hasn’t resolved his or her obstructive apnea, you know how annoying this can be. Not only do the breathing interruptions result in your partner’s moving from a state of deep sleep to light sleep, but they can have the same effect on you, leaving both of you feeling tired, irritable and unable to concentrate during waking hours. cpap masks

However, if your partner suffers from central apnea, you may not be aware that he or she is experiencing sleep apnea. Unlike obstructive apnea t hat results from a block airway, central apnea is caused by the brain’s ineffectively communicating the correct breathing actions to the breathing muscles. Consequently, the sufferer intermittently gasps for air instead of snoring. Central apnea is less common that obstructive apnea, but it’s no less dangerous to a person’s long-term health. Both obstructive and central apnea can increase a person’s risk for a myriad of negative health conditions, including high blood pressure, hypertension, heart failure, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, obesity, depression and poor concentration. But the most damaging effect of sleep apnea is its weakening of the immune system. As with all sleep problems, the insufficient sleep that results form apnea causes immune cells to function with less efficiency and therefore decreases the body’s ability to fight off infection and disease.

So, what’s the best way to determine the presence of apnea and then resolve it? The first step is to make an appointment with your general physician or schedule a consultation with a sleep medicine clinic. Your physician may be able to conclude that you suffer from apnea upon conducting a physical investigation, especially considering that enlarged tonsils and obesity commonly result in obstructive apnea. But when apnea is suspected and its cause isn’t immediately obvious, receiving a polysomnogram from a sleep clinic is the best way to determine the cause of apnea, especially in the case of central apnea.

A polysomnogram is a non-invasive procedure that uses sensors to monitor a person’s brain functions and physical movements as they sleep. After the test reveals the nature and the cause of the apnea, the correct course of treatment in determined. Apnea treatments range from sleep masks that prevent the closing of airways to prescription medication to surgical procedures, with surgery being the least common treatment.

Whatever course of apnea treatment your physician recommends, it’s important that you or your partner receive the treatment as soon as possible. If surgery is recommended and you begin to feel that the sleep disturbances and daytime tiredness are preferable to undergoing an operation, remember that untreated apnea predisposes you serious medical conditions that are also likely to require surgery.


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