Sleep apnea: Types, Symptoms and Risk factors

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when breathing of a person is interrupted during sleep.

January 22, 2018

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when breathing of a person is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea repeatedly stops and starts breathing due to lack of oxygen in brain and rest of the body. If you snore loudly and you feel tired even after sleeping a full night, you may have sleep apnea.

Types of Sleep Apnea :

This include:

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA):

This is the most common type of apnea caused by a blockage of the airway when throat muscles relax during sleep.

Central sleep apnea:

This type of occurs when your brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.

Complex sleep apnea syndrome:

This type of apnea occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea:

The signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas are almost similar making the diagnosis a bit difficult. The most common signs and symptoms include:

  • Loud snoring, which is usually more prominent in obstructive sleep apnea
  • Episodes of breathing cessation during sleep
  • Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • Sleepiness or lack of energy during the day
  • Morning headache
  • Hypersomnia
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Attention problems
  • Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath, which more likely happens in central sleep apnea

Person who has sleep apnea does not necessarily snores. But be sure to consult your doctor if you experience loud snoring, especially snoring that is punctuated by periods of silence.
Consult a doctor if you experience shortness of breath, gasping for air or choking that awakens you from sleep, intermittent pauses in your breathing during sleep or snoring loud enough to disturb the sleep of others or yourself.

Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea:

Risk factors are different for obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Certain factors that increases your risk of obstructive sleep apnea include:

Excess weight:

People who are obese or overweight have greater risk of sleep apnea then people who are having normal weight. The fat deposited around your upper airway may obstruct your breathing. But not necessarily everyone who has sleep apnea is overweight.

A narrowed airway:

Particularly in children with sleep apnea a naturally narrow throat is found which is a cause of inheritance. It is also possible that the tonsils or adenoids may become enlarged and block the airway causing obstructive sleep apnea.

Neck circumference:

People with thicker necks may have narrower airways. The risk increases if neck circumference is 17 inches or larger in men, and is 15 inches or more for women.


Men are at higher risk compared to women to have sleep apnea. However, in case of women the risk increases if they are overweight, and it rises after menopause.


Sleep apnea occurs significantly more often in older adults.

Family history:

If you have family members with sleep apnea, you may be at increased risk.


Smokers are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than people who have never smoked. The inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway may increase due to smoking. The risk decreases once you quit smoking.

Use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers:

These substances relax the muscles in your throat resulting in narrowing the airways causing difficulty in breathing.

Nasal congestion:

You are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea if you have difficulty breathing through your nose. The nasal congestion may be due to an anatomical problem such as deviated septum, sinus problems or allergies.

Gastroesophageal reflux or GERD:

People who have GERD are at higher risk of obstructive sleep apnea.

Risk factor of central sleep apnea include:


Middle-aged and older people have a higher risk of central sleep apnea.

Heart disorders:

People with congestive heart failure are at a greater risk of central sleep apnea.


People who have had a stroke are at a greater risk of central sleep apnea or complex sleep apnea syndrome.

Using narcotic pain medications:

Opioid medications, especially long-acting ones such as methadone, increase the risk of central sleep apnea.