Causes and Treatment of Central and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea pic

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Doreen Gagne, CRNP, has over 20 years of practical experience in the health care industry, including 15 years as a nurse practitioner. In 2014, she began working as a family nurse practitioner at Chesapeake Sleep Physicians in Fallston, Maryland. In that role, Doreen Gagne, CRNP, works to address a variety of sleep-related conditions, including obstructive and central sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a common condition characterized by breathing pauses during sleep. The pauses interrupt a person’s normal sleep pattern when the brain forces the person awake to reinitiate breathing, resulting in poor sleep quality. There are two types of sleep apnea, distinguished by their cause.

The most common form, obstructive sleep apnea, is caused when the airways are blocked during sleep. This occurs when the throat muscles relax and permit the tongue or throat tissue to drop into the airways, obstructing airflow. A person suffering from obstructive sleep apnea may wake to gasping and choking as he or she struggles to breathe.

Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to tell the muscles to breathe. It is caused by an underlying medical condition that affects the brain stem’s ability to function, like Parkinson’s disease or a stroke. A person may also suffer from a mixture of both types of sleep apnea.

Treatment for sleep apnea may depend on its cause. Central sleep apnea is addressed by treating the underlying medical condition. For those with obstructive sleep apnea, lifestyle changes may prove helpful. Elimination of sleep apnea risk factors like obesity, frequent alcohol intake, and smoking can help reduce symptoms. A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, which uses a mask to ensure that consistent air is delivered to the patient’s airways, may prove effective in treating both types of sleep apnea.