What is sleep apnea?

This question was asked in Ventura, California on 03/26/2012.
I'm just curious about what exactly sleep apnea is. My husband snores in his sleep very loudly and I want to find a procedure that he can do to stop it. I'm not exactly sure if it is actually sleep apnea. He is in his early 40s and is in good shape if that makes a difference.

Doctors Answers (4)

Farhad Sigari, MD, FACS
Answered on: 3/27/2012

Sleep Apnea is the term to describe the disorder in which a person stops breathing or takes shallow breaths during sleep. This causes multiple problems during the day and can lead to significant consequences if left untreated. The most common reason for sleep apnea is due to some anatomical obstruction of the airway. The obstruction can be in the nose(septum or turbinates), soft palate, tonsils, tongue, due to a thick neck. Most commonly it is due to a combination of one of the above and usually involves the soft palate. Those who snore loudly need to be evaluated for sleep apnea. Which can be done either by a detailed history and/or sleep study if necessary. You can still be in good shape and have bad sleep apnea. Snoring Snoring without sleep apnea occurs for much of the same reason as above but doesn't result in the daytime sleepiness, fatigue, etc., for the patient but may for their bed partner! There are a number of IN-Office treatments for snoring that I provide that can significantly improve the snoring and has led to improved relationships of bed partners!

Richard J. Schumann Jr., MD
Answered on: 3/27/2012

Sleep apnea is simply cessation of breathing during sleep. The cessation of breathing must last at least 10 seconds to be characterized as such. Snoring is part of the spectrum of sleep disordered breathing and occurrs as a result of air movements through a narrowed portion of the orophaynx or posterior oral cavity. It is often associated with sleep apnea. The best was to treat snoring is to modify the risk factors including obesity and alcohol. Even if healthy otherwise, a patient may develop apnea and it is more common in men that women. If you are concerned about a potential sleep disorder then referral to a sleep specialist is suggested.

Marjorie Yong, M.D.
Answered on: 3/27/2012

Sleep apnea is a condition where one has a decrease in oxygenation in the middle of the night. There are different types of sleep apnea. Obstructive and central are two types. Snoring may be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea. It is important to be tested to check for sleep apnea because chronic sleep apnea can cause a myriad of major medical problems such as memory loss, diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks.

J. Douglas Hudson, MD, DABSM
Answered on: 3/26/2012

Essentially, it is stopping breathing while asleep. The most common form is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) which is caused by the collapse of the tongue and soft palate resulting in a partial or complete blockage of airflow to the lungs. If there is only a partial blockage of airflow, but insufficient to sustain life, the event is called a hypopnea. This reduction or cessation of breathing must last for ten seconds to be called an apnea or hypopnea. Generally, five apneas or hypopneas per hour is considered diagnostic of Obstructive Sleep Apnea. These events may occur hundreds of times throughout the night and usually results in excessive daytime sleepiness. Other symptoms of OSA include snoring, night time urination and hypertension.

Another form of sleep apnea is Central Sleep Apnea which is likewise associated with cessation of breathing but is not due to obstruction of airflow. This type of apnea is secondary to an abnormal response of the brain stem respiratory center telling our body not to breath. This type of apnea may be secondary to conditions such as heart failure with the associated poor circulation and abnormal oxygenation, brain injury or secondary to medications, especially opiates.