The illustrations on this page were developed by a medical illustrator under the guidance of Dr. Hirschinger.
Sleep apnea is a common sleeping disorder marked by shallow breathing, pauses in breath and labored breathing punctuated by gasping or snoring sounds. Pauses of breath can last from several seconds up to minutes and can happen from five to thirty times or more per hour. A pause may be followed by a choking or snorting sound as the sleeper involuntarily gasps for breath.
The two main causes of sleep apnea are a blockage of the airway and poor signals from the part of the brain responsible for directing the muscles that control breathing. These two causes may occur together, however sleep apnea caused by a collapsed or blocked airway, known as obstructive sleep apnea, is the most common reason sleep apnea is experienced.
As oxygen is restricted to the lungs, blood and brain, the sleeper is less likely to fall into deep, restorative cycles of sleep. A person suffering from sleep apnea finds himself or herself tired during the day as the disorder inhibits restful sleep. A lack of quality sleep can lead to accidents or poor job performance. Serious health concerns including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and depression can also result from untreated sleep apnea.
The condition is a highly manageable one as there are a number of treatment options that can relieve the symptoms of sleep apnea. Treatment options range from lifestyle change such as weight loss and smoking cessation, to devices that keep the breathing passage open through pressurized air or by altering the position of the lower jaw and connected airways, to surgery. An individual with sleep apnea should monitor their condition regularly to ensure symptoms and negative health affects are minimized.