Often, we refer to this collection of sleep disorders by the umbrella term of “sleep apnea.” But despite all of these disorders having the same name and the same basic effect — stopping the sufferer’s breathing while they sleep, sometimes even hundreds of times in one night — they have very different causes.
While the terrifying, often deadly related risks remain the same regardless of the type of sleep apnea, the treatments can be very different. That’s why it’s important to know which type of sleep apnea you have.
How Sleep Apnea is Treated
The most common first line of treatment for sleep apnea is a device called CPAP, which stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. This device has a mask or prongs that direct air into your nose, providing continuous air pressure to keep your airway open throughout the night.
While CPAP has been proven effective at preventing sleep apnea episodes and reducing or eliminating the deadly risks of the disease, some people find it difficult to sleep with, and it can have some unpleasant side effects, such as nasal congestion, sore throat, facial irritation, and even abdominal bloating. This is why for some people, CPAP can make sleeping worse.
Luckily, CPAP isn’t the only treatment for sleep apnea. If you experience obstructive sleep apnea, an oral appliance can hold your jaw in the proper position to keep your airway open. This appliance, just like a mouth guard for an athlete, it easy to put in and take out, and allows you to sleep normally. It’s also easy to travel with and doesn’t require power, unlike a bulky CPAP device.
Obstructive, Central, and Complex Sleep Apnea
There are three types of sleep apnea. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea. With this type of sleep apnea, sleeping position, inflammation, or even simply the size of the tongue, tonsils, or adenoids causes the airway to become obstructed by soft tissues. If you have this type of sleep apnea, you can speak to your dentist about use of an oral appliance for treatment, especially if you have a mild or moderate form.
Less prevalent is central sleep apnea. The easiest way to tell this type of sleep apnea from its obstructive cousin is to keep an ear out for snoring. While snoring is a red flag for obstructive sleep apnea, it isn’t necessarily present in someone with central sleep apnea. That’s because it’s not the soft tissues that stop someone with central sleep apnea from breathing — it’s the brain. This kind of sleep apnea often comes hand in hand with conditions like heart failure or Parkinson disease, and it’s the treatment of that underlying condition that helps stop the sleep apnea.
The third type of sleep apnea is a mixture of the previous two. It’s called complex or mixed sleep apnea, and it simply refers to a case of sleep apnea that has bits and pieces of both obstructive and central sleep apnea. This can be the most difficult to treat, because treatments could only partially solve the problem.