Types of Sleep Apnea: Differentiating Obstructive and Central

Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by recurring episodes of interrupted breathing during sleep. There are several types of sleep apnea, with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA) being the most common. Although they may share some similarities, they have distinct differences in terms of causes, symptoms and treatment approaches. In this blog, we’ll delve deeper into these two types of sleep apnea to provide a better understanding of each.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airway in the throat becomes partially or completely blocked during sleep. This obstruction can be due to various factors such as relaxation of throat muscles, excess weight and anatomical abnormalities. As a result, the flow of air is hindered, leading to pauses in breathing that last several seconds. These breathing interruptions can occur multiple times throughout the night, disrupting the normal sleep cycle.

Symptoms of OSA include:

  • Loud and chronic snoring
  • Waking up abruptly with a choking or gasping sensation
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Dry mouth or sore throat upon waking

Treatment Options for OSA

1. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy: This is the most common and effective treatment for OSA. It involves wearing a mask connected to a machine that delivers pressurized air to keep the airway open during sleep.

2. Oral appliances: Certain devices can be worn in the mouth to help keep the airway open. These oral appliances are custom made and fitted by a dentist specializing in sleep apnea treatment.

3. Lifestyle changes: Losing excess weight, quitting smoking, and avoiding alcohol and sedatives can significantly improve OSA symptoms.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

Central sleep apnea is different from obstructive sleep apnea as it is caused by a malfunction in the brain’s respiratory control center. The brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles responsible for breathing, resulting in a temporary suspension of respiration. Unlike OSA, CSA is not primarily related to airway blockages.

Symptoms of CSA include:

  • Pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Regularly waking up feeling short of breath
  • Insomnia or difficulty staying asleep
  • Fatigue and daytime sleepiness
  • Difficulty concentrating and reduced cognitive function

Treatment Options for CSA

1. Addressing underlying medical conditions: Treating the underlying conditions that contribute to CSA, such as heart failure, neurological disorders or certain medications, can help alleviate the symptoms.

2. Adaptive Servo-Ventilation (ASV): This therapy involves using a device that continually monitors breathing and delivers pressurized air when needed to normalize breathing patterns during sleep.

3. Oxygen therapy: Supplemental oxygen may be recommended to increase oxygen levels during sleep and restore normal breathing patterns.


While both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea share the common characteristic of interrupted breathing during sleep, they have distinct causes and require different treatment approaches. Obstructive sleep apnea is mainly caused by physical obstructions in the airway, while central sleep apnea is a result of a malfunction in the brain’s respiratory control. Understanding the differences between these two types of sleep apnea is crucial for proper diagnosis and optimal management of the condition. If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, make an appointment with Dr. Morgan to determine the underlying causes and find an appropriate treatment plan.