Sleep Apnea


Sleep apnea is more than just snoring. The condition is potentially dangerous, with links to depression and even accidents. Obstructive sleep apnea affects numerous individuals, many of whom are overweight, including some children. Muscles in and around the throat relax during sleep to the point that airflow is compromised. In response, the body awakens, and when this happens, the individual often snores or emits a loud choking noise. The pattern may repeat itself numerous times throughout the night. The condition is manageable through use of several devices, medications, and weight loss.

Sleep Apnea affects countless numbers of people, many of whom do not realize they have it. Apnea is a medical term for a temporary cessation of breathing. In many cases of sleep apnea, breathing ceases for ten or twenty seconds. This may occur dozens of time throughout one night’s sleep. When breathing recommences, it is often with a loud snoring or choking sound.

The most common daytime symptom of these constant interruptions in breathing is fatigue. Headaches are another common symptom, as well as memory or learning issues, inability to concentrate, irritability, depression, and a dry mouth upon waking.1 The drowsiness and tendency to easily fall asleep associated with sleep apnea may have dire consequences, including traffic accidents and industrial injuries.

Even children are susceptible to sleep apnea. As with adults, many children with sleep apnea are overweight.2 Children with sleep apnea may experience academic problems, hostility, and hyperactivity.3 Many children with sleep apnea problems also are daytime “mouth breathers.”4  Childhood sleep apnea occurs most often between the ages of two and six, and may be due to enlarged tonsils and adenoids.5 Left untreated, sleep apnea in children may lead to heart issues, “failure to thrive,” and high blood pressure.6

What actually happens during sleep apnea episodes takes place in the throat. Muscles there support the soft palate, the uvula, the tonsils, and the tongue. Relaxing those muscles causes the airways to narrow, making it difficult to take in an adequate breath, and thus enough oxygen. The brain is hardwired to awaken the body when this happens, although the actual awakening it is usually not long enough to remember once morning comes.7

In adults, the most common cause of obstructive sleep apnea is excess weight. In fact, approximately 50% of people with sleep apnea are overweight.8 Men experience sleep apnea more than women do, and it seems to run in families.9 Additionally, as with so many respiratory issues, smoking is a risk factor.

Some individuals have sleep apnea due to very different causes. Central sleep apnea is a far less common diagnosis. People with this disease tend to recall waking up during the night.11 With central sleep apnea, the brain fails to send signals to the body’s breathing muscles. The result is difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, or awakening with a shortness of breath. Daytime symptoms, however, are similar to those of obstructive sleep apnea, including fatigue. At night, central sleep apnea also causes snoring.12

Treating sleep apnea involves several options. There are certain things individuals can do on their own to alleviate sleep apnea symptoms. Losing weight, avoiding alcohol, and quitting smoking all help. Finding the right sleeping position (usually on the side) helps, as does using nasal sprays and allergy medicines.13 Some find relief by using oral appliances or mouthpieces that position the mouth, tongue, and/or jaw for better air passage. Many use CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, machines. CPAPs use a mask that covers the mouth and nose and blows air into the throat. The pressure from that air helps keep airways open.14

Treatment of sleep apnea is very important as it is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.15 Furthermore, proper treatment has the potential to substantially improve quality of life for sleep apnea sufferers.


Additional Diseases Info:

Asthma infographic


alveolus air sac where gas exchange takes place.
angina chest pain.
aorta blood vessel that delivers oxygen-rich blood from the left ventricle to the body; it is the largest blood vessel in the body.
apex top portion of the upper lobes of the lungs.
atrium one of the two receiving chambers of the heart.
base bottom portion of lower lobes, located just above the diaphragm.
blood pressure pressure of blood against the walls of a blood vessel or heart chamber.
bronchiolitis inflammation that involves the bronchioles (small airways).
bronchoscopy the examination of the bronchi (the main airways of the lungs) using a flexible tube (bronchoscope). Bronchoscopy helps to evaluate and diagnose lung problems, assess blockages, obtain samples of tissue and/or fluid, and/or to help remove a foreign body.
bronchus large airways; lung divides into right and left bronchi.
cardiac output total amount of blood being pumped by the heart over a particular period of time.
catheter thin, flexible medical tube; one use is to insert it into a blood vessel to measure blood pressure.
constrict tighten; narrow.
cyanosis bluish color in the skin because of insufficient oxygen.
diaphragm primary muscle used for respiration, located just below the lung bases.
diastolic pressure lowest pressure to which blood pressure falls between contractions of the ventricles.
dilate relax; expand.
dyspnea sensation of difficulty in breathing.
edema swelling due to the buildup of fluid.
endothelial cells the delicate lining, only one cell thick, of the organs of circulation.
expiration exhaling; giving off carbon dioxide.
heartbeat one complete contraction of the heart.
hyperactive describes a situation in which a body tissue is especially likely to have an exaggerated reaction to a particular situation.
hypertension abnormally high blood pressure.
hypotension abnormally low blood pressure.
inspiration inhaling; taking in oxygen.
lobectomy removal of an entire lobe of the lung.
lung volume the amount of air the lungs hold.
mean blood pressure average blood pressure, taking account of the rise and fall that occurs with each heartbeat. It is often estimated by multiplying the diastolic pressure by two, adding the systolic pressure, and then dividing this sum by three.
palpitation sensation of rapid heartbeats.
perfusion flow.
pleura membrane that covers the outside of the lung.
pneumonectomy removal of an entire lung.
pulmonary artery blood vessel delivering oxygen-poor blood from the right ventricle to the lungs.
pulmonary hypertension abnormally high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs.
smooth muscle muscle that performs automatic tasks, such as constricting blood vessels.
spirogram record of the amounts of air being moved in and out of the lungs.
syncope fainting; temporary loss of consciousness.
systemic relating to a process that affects the body generally; in this instance, the way in which blood is supplied through the aorta to all body organs except the lungs.
systolic pressure the highest pressure to which blood pressure rises with the contraction of the ventricles.
vasodilator agent that widens blood vessels.
ventilation movement of air (gases) in and out of the lungs.
ventricle one of the two pumping chambers of the heart; right ventricle receives oxygen-poor blood from the right atrium and pumps it to the lungs through the pulmonary artery; left ventricle receives oxygen-rich blood from the left atrium and pumps it to the body through the aorta.