Understand Sleep Apnea and The Dangers Surrounding It

This article was submitted by Houston Sinus & Allergy. They specialize in treating nasal and sinus conditions and providing allergy care. They are committed to helping patients find long term relief from their symptoms.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects both adults and children, and can be hard to detect. An apnea is a pause or break in regular respiration that can be as brief as seconds or last several minutes. Hypopnea, or shallow breathing, is also a characteristic of sleep apnea. Both of these abnormalities may occur up to dozens of times in an hour and hundreds of times a night, but still go undetected by many of those afflicted by the disorder. It is often the case that these sleep irregularities will be first witnessed by another person. Sleep apnea is extremely detrimental to your natural sleep cycles and yet you could remain unconscious throughout each episode. Proper diagnosis requires the attention of a specialist. Our Houston ENT will help you understand the dangers surrounding sleep apnea.


The different forms of sleep apnea are as follows:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) accounts for about 80 percent of diagnosed cases. OSA occurs when there is a blockage in the airways, but also when the muscles of your throat relax to the point of obstructing airflow.
  • Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is characterized by interrupted breathing due to a stop in respiratory effort. It is caused by irregularities in the central nervous system. CSA constitutes less than one percent of reported cases.
  • Complex/Mixed Sleep Apnea are the labels used when the patient suffers from a combination of both OSA and CSA.
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Many of these symptoms are shared by a number of different sleep disorders and medical conditions. The ambiguity aids in the elusive nature of a proper sleep apnea diagnosis. It is imperative that you adequately note your symptoms in order to give your doctor or specialist the most information for a clear diagnosis. Choking or gasping in mid-sleep is the most common sign of the disorder, but other symptoms include:

  • Heavy snoring
  • Morning fatigue or headaches
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS)
  • Impaired vision or alertness
  • Poor reaction time
  • Hypertension

Contributing Factors

Sleep apnea can often be prevented by addressing some of its leading causes. A thorough study of a patientโ€™s individual circumstances is required to pinpoint a cause, but learning about and tackling some of the items on this list is a positive step forward for anybody.

  • Smoking: always detrimental to your respiratory health.
  • Obesity: takes its toll on the central nervous and circulatory systems, as well as causes fatty deposits in the neck that affect breathing.
  • Physiology: how has your respiratory system developed and how has it been affected?
  • Genealogy: are your ancestors prone to apneas or hypopneas?
  • Enlarged tonsils: a common cause of OSA in children.
  • Age: will cause airway functionality to deteriorate over advancing years.


Breathing supplies your bloodstream with oxygen. Inversely, a stoppage of breath will cause a buildup of carbon dioxide. Your body becomes aware of the malfunction through chemoreceptors that signal your brain to wake you up for lack of oxygen. These interruptions of your sleep cycle, coupled with the stress on your circulatory system, bring about some serious health concerns:

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  • High blood pressure and hypertension
  • Mood swings and other hormonal imbalances
  • Driving or work-related accidents
  • Insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes
  • Low metabolism and obesity



When you visit a sleep disorder specialist they will administer a polysomnogram. This overnight sleep test and study will aid them in properly diagnosing your condition and its severity. Other tests are also available that gauge brain activity and how it’s responding during sleep. The available treatments for sleep apnea range from simple daily exercises to surgery.

  • Throat exercises are meant to condition your throat muscles. As the muscleโ€™s functionality improves they become tighter and more responsive to the brain. Practicing a horned musical instrument is a common recommendation.
  • Continuous positive airway pressure machines (CPAP) involve a mask with a hose running to a device supplying constant air flow. These devices can be a bit cumbersome, but they are a great immediate/temporary fix.
  • Implanted nerve stimulators have been a rapidly improving technology for the last three decades. The process involves surgery and the implanting of a pulse generator which stimulates key muscles in the upper airway into consistent functionality.
  • Surgery is recommended only when all other treatments have failed or are incompatible with the patient. There are several different types of surgery currently being performed to cure sleep apnea, but the compatibility of any procedure is entirely dependent on each patientโ€™s unique conditions.

The silver lining is that with the rise in sleep apnea cases the techniques used to treat it have been fine tuned. The amount of study and practice that specialists in this field have is considerable. Millions of Americans have sleep apnea, and millions more have it but are unaware. It is largely an affectation of modern life that shares causes with common present-day illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. As with all of these, combinations of personal and professional care go a long way.

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