Irregular Breathing

Irregular breathing and Sleep Apnea are often related. Because of this, many people’s bed partners will have witnessed different breathing patterns that will result in further evaluation for sleep apnea conditions. Snoring is the most common respiratory disturbance in sleep. It results from a partial airway obstruction that serves as a “whistle” causing the snoring noises. Snoring however does not confirm Obstructive Sleep Apnea syndrome, however, as snoring can exist without any sleep disruption, apneas, or hypopneas. The important point is that if a partial obstruction exists and is causing snoring, then the same obstruction may be causing a sleep apnea condition.

Snoring itself can cause great disturbance of sleep in the bed partner in which the interruptions in sleep are of health consequence to the bed partner and can lead to marital discord and the necessity of the bed partner taking refuge in another bedroom to get a normal nights sleep.

Other breathing patterns that are described during sleep include actual periods where the individual is noted to pause in breathing. Also, gasping for air after a pause is common, and can be frightening for the observer. Noises can range from a soft snore to a coarse loud gasping, or for a significant percentage can be absent. As the obstruction gets more severe in some persons with Obstructive Sleep Apnea syndrome, the snoring or breathing noises actually become less. This presumably is due to an even lesser amount of air moving through the narrowed airway to the point where respiratory noises cannot be heard.

The problem sometimes arises when the person with sleep apnea sleeps alone. There are no witnesses to reveal how their breathing behaves during sleep, and of course, the person is of no help in this regard. Asking about times when they may have spent the night away may reveal some history about snoring and sleep breathing patterns. Some patients report waking out of their sleep and gasping for air, or feeling as if they are choking when arousing. These may suggest sleep apnea patterns, but can be seen with panic disorders and other respiratory conditions.

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