Sleep Apnea and Hyperventilation

Sleep apnea and apnea are caused by problems with breathing. In many cases, these problems are caused by obstructions in breathing – such as problems with a blocked throat from soft tissue or excessive soft tissue from excess weight, jaw positioning causing blocked airways or genetic defects. Another cause of sleep apnea is known as hyperventilation, which is basically defined as over-breathing.

Central sleep apnea is a type of sleep apnea which is caused by a defect in the part of the brain that controls how you breathe. A normal brain stem is very sensitive to levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. The brain stem signals to the respiratory muscles in your body to breathe harder and faster to get more oxygen in to dispel the carbon dioxide in your blood.

In people with central sleep apnea, your brain stem is a lot less sensitive to carbon dioxide build up in the blood. This means that your body’s response becomes more exaggerated and that results in over-breathing or hyperventilation. This then causes snoring, interrupted sleep and other symptoms of apnea, such as dry mouth, sore throat and daytime fatigue.

Hyperventilation – Causes and Symptoms

Hyperventilation doesn’t just cause problems with your sleep. If you’re someone who hyperventilates frequently because you have a congenital defect which controls your breathing, you may experience a whole host of other symptoms throughout the daytime – not just at night. Hyperventilation is characterized and defined by the individual breathing more deeply and far more frequently than usual. This means that you’re taking in more oxygen than you actually need, which results in many chemical and hemodynamic changes that cause various symptoms.

Because hyperventilation causes a drop in the carbon dioxide levels in your blood (because you’re taking in more oxygen), you may experience a light headed, dizzy feeling, and you may even faint or pass out. This also causes tingling in your hands and feet and numbness in your fingers and toes. You’re working harder to get oxygen into your body, so it’s also common for you to have chest pains due to the movements required to breathe, and a combination of this pain and the dizzy feeling can also cause anxiety attacks and feelings of panic.

You may also have problems with swallowing and having a dry mouth. Prolonged periods of hyperventilation can cause memory problems, blurred vision, headaches, sweating and vision changes. This is because hyperventilation starves your brain of what it needs to function properly.

There are number of causes of hyperventilation, including central apnea, but other causes include anxiety, fever, emotional stress, medication or over-exertion. It can also be caused by brain defects, lung problems, asthma and emphysema. Sudden hyperventilation is common when people are tense, nervous or frightened, and it can happen in many individuals if they travel to heights of over 6,000 feet.

Hyperventilation Treatment

To get any treatment for hyperventilation, your doctors will need to be sure that you are suffering from it. You may be required to do a forced hyperventilation test, whereby you breathe deeply and rapidly, as though you were running, for a period of 30 seconds to a minute. If you experience problems like wheezing, palpitations, dizziness and coughing, and you recognize that you’ve had those symptoms many times in the past, you may be diagnosed with hyperventilation syndrome.

If your problems are not excessive, you can have treatment at home. You need to train yourself to breathe more slowly and less deeply, almost as though you’re engaging in meditation. You should also train yourself to always breathe through your nose, because you exhale oxygen but you immediately inhale carbon dioxide.

The above tips can really help those suffering with central apnea – but you may also be able to use CPAP to lessen your symptoms, or medication to address the problem within your brain that controls your breathing.