What Are the Types of Sleep Apnea?

man sleeping wearing sleep apnea mask

Story at-a-glance -

  • There are four types of sleep apnea that can target children (usually between 2 and 8 years old) and older adults
  • Know the types of sleep apnea and the differences that set them apart from each other

There are four types of sleep apnea that can target children (usually between 2 and 8 years old1) and older adults.

Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS)

Upper airway resistance syndrome, or UARS, is characterized by airway resistance during sleep. When a person sleeps, the muscles of the airway relax, and this can cause a reduction in the diameter of the airway.

Normally, people with UARS already have airways that are restricted or reduced in size, and this natural relaxation can cause the airway to decrease more and result in labored breathing. Breathing patterns of UARS patients are similar to that of breathing through a straw.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

This is said to relate more to the diaphragm and chest wall. Central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs because the brain isn’t able to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. CSA patients have an inability to properly pull air in. In some cases, however, CSA can develop because of conditions or factors such as Parkinson’s disease,2 heart failure, stroke or sleeping at a high altitude.3

Compared to OSA, CSA is much less common. According to the Alaska Sleep Clinic, approximately 20 percent of sleep apnea cases are CSA, although researchers believe this number is lower.4

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea or OSA involves an obstruction of your airway, beginning in your nose and ending in your lungs. This disease arises from what is considered a mechanical problem.

When a patient with OSA sleeps, the tongue falls back against the soft palate. Afterward, the soft palate and the uvula fall back against the back of throat, closing the airway. Breathing usually resumes with a large gasp, snort or body jerk. Depending on the severity of the condition, the obstruction can occur a few times a night or even hundreds of times a night. OSA can be classified as mild, moderate or severe:5

  • Mild OSA: five to 14 episodes of breathing interruptions in an hour
  • Moderate OSA: 15 to 30 episodes of breathing interruptions in an hour
  • Severe OSA: 30 or more breathing interruptions in an hour

These movements are detrimental because they interfere with sound sleep and may reduce oxygen flow to vital organs, potentially triggering irregular heart rhythms. Furthermore, frequent collapse of the airway during sleep can make it difficult for people to breathe for periods lasting as long as 10 seconds.

Mixed Sleep Apnea

This is said to be a combination of central and obstructive sleep apnea. At the moment, an attended overnight sleep study is said to be the only method to tell if a patient has this type of sleep apnea.

Mixed sleep apnea can also be referred to as Complex Sleep Apnea (CompSA). However, the former is typically described as the combination of OSA and CSA indicators that manifest in a patient during a test, while the latter is utilized as a diagnostic term to indicate a disease that’s different from OSA and CSA.6


Sleep Apnea: An Introduction

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Sleep Apnea Causes

Types of Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea Treatment

Sleep Apnea Testing

Sleep Apnea Surgery

Sleep Apnea Prevention

Sleep Apnea FAQ

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