What Is The Cause of Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea Causes Diagnosis

Have you ever been found with a condition involving a sleeping disorder whereby breathing repeatedly starts and stops? Occurrences involving a feeling of fatigue even after a good night’s rest and snoring loudly during sleep? The answer to what causes these conditions is sleep apnea.

Types of sleep apnea include obstructive sleep apnea, which commonly occurs due to throat muscle relaxation, central sleep apnea due to a malfunction of the brain in the muscles that regulate breathing, and complex sleep apnea syndrome, a scenario of the combination of the two earlier mentioned though less common.

Obstruction Sleep Apnea

It is caused by the relaxation of the throat’s back muscles. The muscles are responsible for supporting the tongue and other components along the airways in the throat region, including the soft palate. The relaxation of the muscles leads to narrowing of the airways or even closing when a person breaths in.

A person may be shortly awakened by the brain through a snort or a choke when the brain detects the malfunction, which is the inability or difficulty in breathing to reopen the blocked airway, a scenario that a person hardly remembers. The pattern may happen continuously, inhibiting a person from fully achieving a deep sleep state.


The symptoms associated with obstructive sleep apnea include morning headache, experiencing difficulty staying focused while awake, loud snoring, episodes where an individual stops to breathe during sleep, gasping for oxygen when one is sleeping, facing difficulty in staying asleep, a condition referred to as insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness a condition referred to as hypersomnia.

A person may experience personality changes or may even cause accidents due to fatigue, a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. Hypertension is also a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea.

Factors of Risk

Obstruction sleep apnea affects everyone, with men being majorly at risk compared to women. The prevalence in men is around 4% while 2% in women, and mostly affects the middle-aged population. The prevalence increases with age with men still being the most vulnerable.

Factors such as obesity, family medical history, alcohol use, neck circumference, and age are contributing factors. Breathing can be hindered by fat deposits around the airway as a result of excessive weight, hence increasing the risk of sleep apnea.

Having a narrowed airway is also a contributing factor since the adenoids or tonsils can grow or enlarge resulting in blockage of the airway, a risk factor mostly in children since they are still developing. In terms of neck circumference, individuals with thicker necks are most likely to have narrow airways.

Smoking is one of the primary causes of obstructive sleep apnea. Smoking promotes an increase in fluid retention and amount of inflammation in the upper part of the airway, making those who engage in smoking being three times more vulnerable to get the disorder than those who have never smoked. Congestion of the nasal cavity may be from a medical problem or an allergy which makes a person prone to the disorder. Chances of developing obstructive sleep apnea may also be enhanced by medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, asthma, congestive heart failure, chronic lung diseases, and high blood pressure.


Obstructive sleep apnea can be classified into three types; severe, mild, and moderate. Severe obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by unwilling sleepiness during activities such as driving, which require more attention.

Moderate obstructive sleep apnea is associated with involuntary sleepiness that may occur during activities that require some attention, whereas mild obstructive sleep apnea involves involuntary sleepiness when performing activities such as watching TV, which hardly require one to be focused.

Fatigue is the major complication when it comes to obstructive sleep apnea. Daytime fatigue is a result of not obtaining deep sleep or enough rest at night when sleeping due to repeated awakenings. Chances of a person having the disorder causing an accident are high due to their vulnerability in paying attention or staying focused.

Heart complications may also develop due to insufficient oxygen level supply occurring during sleep apnea, straining the cardiovascular system and leading to hypertension in cases of obstructive sleep apnea. Other complications include developing diabetes due to insulin resistance development, liver problems, metabolic syndrome, and developing complications with medications, and during surgery with the use of general anesthesia.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

Obstructive sleep apnea can be regulated or managed either through surgical or non-surgical methods. The management or treatment focuses on the factors causing the disorder and also depends on physical examination, and also on the severity of the disease.

One of the nonsurgical methods commonly used in the treatment is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). It is mostly used in treating severe to moderate cases of obstructive sleep apnea thus preferred in the treatment of mild sleep apnea.

CPAP treatment involves the use of a machine to keep the airways open by applying mild air pressure to allow airflow in the throat during sleeping, therefore preventing the collapse of the airway. A steady stream of air that is pressurized is provided by the CPAP equipment with the patient wearing a mask. Keeping the airflow open is the main goal since this will help prevent breathing pauses, thus ensuring normal oxygen levels.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious condition that should be given careful thought since it significantly affects a person’s productivity and concentration. The impact of the disease may lead to accidents that can not only fatal to the patient or an individual but also those surrounding them. It is advisable to seek medical assistance when a person suspects the condition in order to be safe and protect oneself and also others. Obstructive sleep apnea is treatable and preventable, so make a wise decision in the fight against the disorder.


Dan was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2017 when he was only 32 years old. He has been using a BIPAP machine for his treatment. He hopes to provide a patient's perspective on the sleep apnea experience. Dan lives in Tampa with his girlfriend and 2 dogs.

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