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Causes of Nocturnal Breathing Problems

Roshan Valder
There could be a number of reasons why you might be having trouble breathing at night. They could be quite harmless or could even be signs of a more serious condition. Here's more...
Did You Know?
In humans, the right lung is bigger than the left lung, and if both lungs were laid out flat, they would be enough to cover an entire tennis court!
"Why do I have trouble breathing at night?", you may ask, wondering what could be causing you discomfort. There could be many causes that lead a person to suffer from this problem. The most common reason is sleep apnea, in which the sufferer stops breathing for short intervals while asleep.
Most of the time, the person is not even aware that he is facing difficulty in breathing, sometimes even after waking up. Sleep apnea may go unnoticed for years. The other causes could be medical conditions such as asthma or bronchitis, respiratory problems caused by heart diseases, and trepopnea. Some women also have this problem during pregnancy.

Possible Causes of Breathing Trouble

➤ Sleep Apnea

In sleep apnea, the patient stops breathing, while sleeping, for a time interval of up to 10 seconds. The person might not even know that he had stopped breathing, and this condition is recognized by someone who sees the person experiencing this during his sleep.
This is one of the symptoms of sleep apnea. Some of the others may include snoring, excessive sleepiness during the day, headaches in the mornings, mood swings, irritability, and sexual dysfunction. Obesity is also considered a major risk factor that contributes to a person being affected by sleep apnea.
Central, obstructive, and complex sleep apnea are the three types of sleep apnea, of which obstructive sleep apnea occurs most predominantly. In central sleep apnea, the breathing stops due to irregular signals from the brain to the body to make an attempt to breathe. It can be caused by the use of opiates and even alcohol in large doses.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when there is an obstruction in the airway of an individual. Snoring is a major symptom in this type of sleep apnea. Complex sleep apnea is a combination of central and obstructive sleep apnea conditions.
This condition develops when the person has been suffering with obstructive type apnea for a long time, which leads to the appearance of central apnea symptoms. It can be further accelerated by the use of drugs such as opiates.
Treatment for this illness is available and most commonly involves the use of the continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP machine. It helps keep the patients air passage open by the use of pressurized air. Another therapy that is used involves, shifting the patient's jaw forward by using an oral appliance.
This is known as oral appliance therapy or OAT. There are also options of opting for surgery to clear the passageways. In cases where the apnea is not so severe, the patient could try changing his position (sleep sideways) or get a pillow, specially made for people with such disorders.
In addition to all this, there are also interesting alternative therapies that are being used to treat sleep apnea, which range from playing the didgeridoo to singing.

➤ Hypopnea

In hypopnea, the person does not totally stop breathing, but instead breathes improperly, leading him to get inadequate oxygen. A person with hypopnea usually snores while sleeping and feels tired even after having slept properly. Its causes include defects in the anatomy of the nasal or respiratory passages, obesity, diseases of the respiratory system, use of sedatives, alcohol abuse, smoking, and aging. Treatments are the same as in the case of apnea.

➤ Orthopnea

It is a condition in which a person feels short of breath when lying down. It is often an indicator of heart failure, especially of the left ventricular area. It is also associated with people having asthma and sleep apnea.

➤ Trepopnea

In trepopnea, the person finds it difficult to breathe when lying down on one side, but not when on the other. It occurs when one of the lungs or bronchi is diseased and also in cases of congestive heart failure. A person with heart disease would feel more comfortable breathing while lying on the right side.

➤ Paroxysmal Dyspnea

Here the patient wakes up suddenly, after some hours of sleep, coughing and wheezing with shortness of breath. It is a symptom of heart disease or heart related complications, thus also called cardiac asthma.

➤ Asthma or Other Pulmonary Diseases

Asthma or related respiratory diseases such as bronchitis, emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) could also be a possible cause. In other cases such as bronchitis or emphysema, where the respiratory system is damaged, can also cause difficulty in breathing.

➤ Trouble Breathing During Pregnancy

Some women might report problems or difficulty breathing at night during pregnancy. This could be because of various other reasons, and a doctor should be consulted if the symptoms are starting to get prominent.
But at times, it could also be due to one of the following harmless reasons: Increase of the hormone progesterone during pregnancy, causes the woman to breathe in more deeply, which might make it seem like its taking up more effort than usual.
It may also occur because the uterus enlarges during pregnancy, causing pressure to build up on your diaphragm, which is in close contact with your lungs, thus causing a feeling of breathlessness.

➤ Other Possible Causes

  • Lung disease
  • Asthma
  • Emphysema
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction)
  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Dust-laden environment
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Obesity
  • Hiatial hernia
  • Panic attacks
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Allergies
These are the most common causes of why a person might have this problem, and it can vary from person to person. These could sometimes be serious conditions, and a person showing numerous symptoms should have a health check-up done.
One must consult a doctor immediately if one experiences prolonged chest discomfort, acute shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness in the throat, or consistent coughing.
Disclaimer: This story is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.