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A feeling of choking or gasping for breath as you sleep is something that needs to be investigated and rectified at the earliest opportunity. This condition is referred to as sleep apnea and is caused due to a number of different reasons.

The main problem with this condition is that as the breathing gets cut off frequently during sleep, the body and its vital organs are deprived of oxygen causing irreparable cell damage.

There are two types of sleep apnea:

1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This is much more common and is usually caused by the collapse of the soft tissues at the back of the throat which ends up blocking the airway. This is called a prolapsing soft palate. The cause for this prolapsing soft palate could be a nerve disorder or even paralysis of the muscles.

An adenoid enlargement can also be responsible for obstruction of the airway. This is usually easily detectable on a simple clinical examination, especially with an associated history of breathing trouble at night.

2. Central Sleep Apnea: In the second type, a lack of proper signals from the brain causes the muscles of breathing to stop working. This condition is much more severe and usually means that the patient has to undergo a protracted series of investigations and tests.

A brain lesion/tumor/injury is usually the cause of this disorder. Certain degenerative diseases can also cause central sleep apnea to occur.

Risk Factors

This condition is found more commonly in males who are above the age of 40 and are overweight. Patients suffering from GERD are commonly found to have sleep apnea as well. Certain anatomic features like having a small jaw, a large neck, enlarged adenoids, deviated septum and a large tongue also add to the likelihood of developing this disorder.


Sleep studies which involve the monitoring of the oxygen levels as a patient sleeps are considered to be the definitive way to confirm the presence of sleep apnea. Apart from this an ENT examination is necessary. A MRI of the brain might also be ordered to rule out any abnormalities in that area.


Patients should be asked to lose weight and then maintain their new weight in the long-term as this is something that can greatly affect the treatment and its results.

The use of a positive pressure machine to assist respiration at night may be something that will be needed for the lifetime of the patient. Surgical intervention to remove enlarged adenoids or a palatal uvuloplasty may be advised by the doctor to help remove the obstruction from the airway.

In many cases the use of a machine to assist in respiration is required even after surgery has been performed.

Left untreated or ignored, sleep apnea can affect the everyday functioning of the body and result in tiredness, poor concentration, motor vehicle crashes and poor academic/work performance. It has also been found to play a role in the development and worsening of diseases like Diabetes Mellitus, High Blood Pressure, Panic Attacks, Heart failure and ADHD.

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