definition: it is a disorder that
causes a child or adult to stop breathing for several moments (up to a
full minute) when asleep. These breathing
pauses happen several times a night (up to 100 times!) and can
There are three different types, based on the different
causes, i.e. how the
airway is being blocked: Obstructive Apnea, Central
or Complex Apnea (See below for definitions).
Sadly apnea, or
also apnoea, is quite
about 2-4% of all adults, and 1-3% of children would suffer from it.
Worse, it often
goes undiagnosed and untreated.
Most people are not aware of their breathing problems at night: their sleep is disrupted due to the breathing pause but they seemingly go straight back to sleep (as a result most patients do not feel they were truly awake).
However, they do not spend enough time in a deep sleep so they get very poor rest quality
(not to mention that of their partner's or parents' who often wake up
at each breathing gasp too!). During the breathing pause, there is reduced oxygen flow to the brain.
The most obvious side
effects of apnea are daytime sleepiness and severe
fatigue. But when untreated, it will also cause high blood
pressure and other cardiovascular diseases. Frequent
headaches, memory and concentration problems, excessive weight gain are
all possible side effects too.
The good thing is that it can be diagnosed
and that effective
treatments do exist. If you often snore (loudly), are
(lightly) overweight, feel very tired during the day, or have been told
you gasp for breath at night sometimes, do check with your doctor!
High risk factors are: being male, being overweight and being 40+ years
old. However, many kids, youngsters and women of any age have it too. There are a couple of pediatric conditions where sleep apnea is common: Down syndrome, craniofacial abnormalities and cerebral palsy. If you have such a diagnosis then it may be worth being extra vigilant for signs of apnea, and ask your pediatrician specifically about it.
Sleep Apnea Definition (OSA)
This is the most common one. It is when the
person's airway is
blocked physically. What happens usually is that the soft
tissue at the back of the throat collapses, obstructing the
This closes the airway, until the person wakes up, gasping for breath
and consciously opens the airway again.
In this case, there is no physical blocking of the airway but
a brain signal failure.
What happens is that the brain signal necessary to keep the airway
muscles functioning, does not go through correctly.