Obstructive vs Central Sleep Apnea: What’s the Difference?

Team Sleep Apnea

You wake up after seven or eight hours of sleep but you still feel tired. Your partner's been complaining that you snore loudly every night.

It could be that you're dealing with sleep apnea, a disorder that causes you to stop and start breathing throughout the night. Several types of sleep apnea exist, among them central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea. Learn more about the difference between the two, how to recognize the signs and what you can do to treat the conditions.

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is by far the most common form of sleep apnea. It occurs when the throat muscles relax so much while you sleep that they block the airway. Since the airway is blocked, the muscles in the chest and diaphragm need to work harder to pull air into the lungs.

Several factors can contribute to obstructive sleep apnea, including weight, age, the size of the airway and nasal congestion.

When people have obstructive sleep apnea, their breathing is usually shallow while they sleep. They often snore loudly. Some will wake up suddenly, gasping for air, but might not wake up enough to realize they're awake.

Snoring is one of the most common signs of obstructive sleep apnea. Other signs of the disorder include difficulty waking up in the morning or feeling excessively fatigued or sleepy during the day. Some people develop dry mouth or headaches, which often occur first thing in the morning.

Over time, obstructive sleep apnea can interfere with your daily life and activities. You might have trouble concentrating or feel irritable. It can also affect your libido and may lead to high blood pressure.

What is Central Sleep Apnea?

Central sleep apnea is much less common than obstructive sleep apnea. It occurs when brain signals don't reach the muscles that control your breathing. Usually, central sleep apnea is connected to another medical condition.

People with a history of stroke or heart disease, Parkinson's disease or kidney failure, have a higher risk of developing central sleep apnea than others. Occasionally, the condition can develop as a result of using a positive airway pressure machine to treat obstructive sleep apnea. Using narcotics can also lead to central sleep apnea.

The signs of central sleep can be similar to those of obstructive sleep apnea. You might awaken suddenly in the night, feeling short of breath. You might also feel sleepy during the daytime and experience morning headaches.

Notably, central sleep apnea is less likely to cause snoring than obstructive sleep apnea.

How Do You Treat Sleep Apnea?

How you treat sleep apnea depends on the type. In the case of central sleep apnea, treating an underlying condition that's contributing to it can help to reduce symptoms and the occurrence of the disorder. For example, discontinuing the use of narcotics can help to stop central sleep apnea, as can treating a condition such as heart failure.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) can be used to treat both types of sleep apnea. A CPAP machine provides a steady stream of air that helps to keep the airways open. While a CPAP machine can treat both central and obstructive sleep apnea, it's worth noting that the machine can cause central sleep apnea in some people.

The treatment that's best for you depends on multiple factors. Talk to a specialist today to learn more about how to get a better night's sleep with sleep apnea. Contact us today at 817-481-6888 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Coats at TMJ Plus Wellness Center.