What are the Effects of Sleep Apnea on Breathing?

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  • Written By: Jillian Peterson
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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The effects of sleep apnea on breathing include loud snoring and interrupted breathing during sleep. This interrupted breathing has a profound effect on the body, and the side effects of sleep apnea include high blood pressure, weight gain, and chronic fatigue. Once diagnosed by a sleep specialist, a person with sleep apnea may be prescribed a sleep apnea device that helps maintain proper breathing throughout the night.

The effects of sleep apnea on breathing are well documented. During sleep, the muscles of the throat relax, and the soft tissue of the tongue slip back into the throat. These tissues block the airway, causing snoring and interrupted breathing. Usually, the brain will react to the stopped airflow and wake up the body briefly to resume breathing. In this way, the interrupted breathing caused by sleep apnea in turn causes interrupted sleep, making the person tired during the day.

There are three different types and causes of sleep apnea, though the effects of all three types of sleep apnea on breathing are similar. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea, in which the airway is blocked by soft tissue at the back of the throat. Central sleep apnea is caused by signals from the brain not getting to the muscles that control breathing during sleep. A third type, mixed sleep apnea, is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea.


A diagnosis of sleep apnea is performed by a sleep specialist in a facility where patients stay overnight. Sleep specialists monitor patients while asleep to determine what kind of sleep apnea they have and the effects of that type of sleep apnea on breathing. Depending on the type of sleep apnea diagnosed, a person with this common sleep disorder may be prescribed a sleep apnea device.

In mild cases of obstructive sleep apnea, a dental mouthpiece may be prescribed by a doctor and fitted by a dentist. Dental mouthpieces sit within the mouth and hold the airway open, preventing the soft tissue in the throat from sliding back and blocking air passages. Over-the-counter mouthpieces can also be purchased at pharmacies.

In severe cases of obstructive or central sleep apnea, a sleep specialist may fit the patient with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. A CPAP machine maintains a continuous flow of air into the mouth and throat throughout the night. In cases of central sleep apnea, medications may also be prescribed.



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