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What is the Difference Between OSA and Central Sleep Apnea?

a doctor examining his patient's throat

Sleep apnea is a common condition that affects 22 million Americans. It causes difficulty with breathing during the night when you are asleep and you will experience significant pauses in your breathing. These interruptions can impact the quality of your sleep so you may notice that you feel tired and have headaches during the daytime. People with sleep apnea also tend to snore a lot more. 

There are several different types of sleep apnea and they impact patients in different ways, but the two most common are obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea. 

Obstructive sleep apnea 

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea and it is caused by a partial or complete blockage of your airways while you are asleep. This means that your diaphragm and chest muscles have to work significantly harder and they cannot always draw enough air into your lungs. 

What causes obstructive sleep apnea?

Excess weight is one of the major causes of obstructive sleep apnea in adults. Fat deposits around the upper airway can obstruct your breathing. Certain medical conditions that are associated with obesity, such as hypothyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome, can also lead to OSA as well. However, not everybody that has obstructive sleep apnea is overweight because there are other causes. 

If your family has a history of obstructive sleep apnea, you are more likely to develop the condition. Some people inherit naturally narrow airways, so they have a higher risk of obstructive sleep apnea. 

Certain lifestyle choices can also increase your chances of developing obstructive sleep apnea. If you have high blood pressure due to poor diet and lack of exercise, this can make you more likely to experience obstructive sleep apnea as well. 

How is obstructive sleep apnea treated? 

Depending on the severity of your obstructive sleep apnea, there are a number of different ways to treat it. If you think that you may have sleep apnea, you should seek the advice of an ENT doctor and they will be able to conduct a sleep study. 

In some cases, if you have mild sleep apnea, you can treat it by making some lifestyle changes. Reducing your weight is often the most effective way to manage your sleep apnea. You can also try things like quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol and adjusting your sleeping position. However, if your obstructive sleep apnea is more developed, you may require treatment from an ENT doctor. 

The most common form of treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. This involves wearing a mask while you sleep, which will manage the pressure in your airways and stop them from collapsing when you breathe in, so you are able to take enough air into your lungs. There are a number of different types of CPAP machine and your ENT doctor will advise you on which is most suitable for you. 

Central sleep apnea 

Central sleep apnea is different from obstructive sleep apnea because it is not caused by a physical blockage in the airways. Your breathing will still stop and start while you sleep, as it does with obstructive sleep apnea, but it happens because your brain is not sending signals to the muscles that control your breathing. It is less common than obstructive sleep apnea, and it is usually caused by other underlying health conditions that need to be treated. 

What causes central sleep apnea?

Central sleep apnea is not caused by obesity like obstructive sleep apnea often is. Instead, it is caused by a range of different health issues. 

Cheyne-Stokes breathing is a specific form of central sleep apnea that is most commonly associated with strokes or congestive heart failure. It causes a gradual increase, followed by a decrease in breathing air flow. At the height of the decrease, complete lack of air flow can occur. This breathing pattern can also occur in people when they are at very high altitudes.  

Certain medications, especially opioids, have also been shown to increase the chance of central sleep apnea. If this is the case, your doctor will recommend changing your medications to find a better alternative. 

Some people with obstructive sleep apnea find that they develop central sleep apnea in response to the treatment from a CPAP machine. This is known as treatment-emergent sleep apnea and is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea. 

How is central sleep apnea treated? 

In order to treat central sleep apnea, you need to identify the underlying health issue that is causing it in the first place. An ENT doctor will perform a number of tests and assess your overall health to find the root cause before suggesting a course of action. 

If you think that you may have sleep apnea, it is important that you see an ENT doctor right away. Get in touch with ENT Specialists at 402-397-0670 today to find out more.