Understanding the Different Types of Sleep Apnea

Understanding the Different Types of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes you to involuntarily stop breathing while asleep. It affects about 26% of adults between 30-70, but it many cases go underreported. There are different types of sleep apnea, and the complications to your health can range from mild to life-threatening.

At Oasis Ear, Nose, and Throat, otolaryngologists Dr. James Osborne and Dr. Bryan Smedley offer a number of effective treatments to improve nighttime breathing and quality of rest for their patients in the Surprise, Arizona, area who have sleep apnea. Understanding the different types and what symptoms they present will help you know when it’s time to get medical help.

The different types of sleep apnea

There are two primary types of sleep apnea.

1. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea is the more common form, affecting about 10%-30% of adults in the United States. The muscles in the back of your throat support the soft palate, the side walls of the throat, the tongue, and other nearby structures. When they relax during sleep, the soft tissues collapse into the open space, narrowing or closing off your airway and preventing you from inhaling.

As the oxygen level in your blood drops, your brain registers a problem and sends a signal to wake you up and clear your airway. The disturbance is so brief, though, you probably won’t remember it in the morning.

Instead, you snore or make a choking or gasping sound, then fall back asleep until your airway closes again, and the cycle repeats. This unhealthy pattern can occur five to 30 times or more each hour, and it can go on all night. You can’t reach the deep, restful phases of sleep and wake up tired and parched in the morning.

2. Central sleep apnea

This type of sleep apnea affects less than 1% of the population. In this case, your brain doesn’t transmit signals to your breathing muscles, which stops you from drawing a breath for a short period. Some people feel a shortness of breath when they wake up, while others have difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep.

It’s also possible to have a combined form of the two types, though it’s rare.

How to know if you have sleep apnea

The signs and symptoms of OSA and central sleep apnea overlap. You can only learn the two most common ones from a bedmate or roommate. They’ll comment on your loud snoring or notice you hold your breath briefly. Other common indicators of the disorder are persistent symptoms that you can notice yourself, including:

If you notice any of these signs, or if someone tells you about your snoring and gasping, seek medical attention, as not breathing for even a short time can be life-threatening.

Treating sleep apnea

If we determine you have sleep apnea, we have treatments that can help you get a restful night’s sleep.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)

You wear this device over your nose and mouth. It sends a steady stream of air, whose pressure holds your airway open while you sleep.

Oral appliances

A custom-made oral appliance holds your lower jaw forward, opening your airway and preventing obstruction.


This is an FDA-approved, surgically implantable upper airway stimulation device that functions much like a pacemaker. The device monitors your breathing; if it senses that you’re not drawing breath, it stimulates nerves that tell your throat muscles to contract and open your airway, allowing you to breathe normally and sleep peacefully.

Have you been told you snort and growl while you’re sleeping? Do you feel like you’re always behind the curve in sleep? Then it’s time to come into Oasis Ear, Nose, and Throat for an evaluation with one of our doctors. To learn more or to get started, call us at 623-207-7560, or book online with us today.


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