by Aisha Ajekigbe
Obstructive sleep apnea is a common and serious sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing during sleep. The airway repeatedly becomes blocked, limiting the amount of air that reaches your lungs. When this happens, you may snore loudly or making choking noises as you try to breathe. During this time, your brain and body becomes oxygen deprived, leading to you waking up. This may happen a few times a night, or in more severe cases, several hundred times a night.
In many cases, an apnea or temporary pause in breathing, is caused by the tissue in the back of the throat collapsing. The muscles of the upper airway relax when you fall asleep. If you sleep on your back, gravity can cause the tongue to fall back, narrowing the airway, which consequently reduces the amount of air that can reach your lungs. The narrowed airway causes snoring by making the tissue in back of the throat vibrate as you breathe.
Sleep apnea can make you wake up in the morning feeling tired or unrefreshed even though you have had a full night of sleep. During the day, you may feel fatigued, have difficulty concentrating or you may even unintentionally fall asleep. This is because your body is waking up numerous times throughout the night, even though you might not be conscious of each awakening.
The lack of oxygen your body is experiencing can have negative long-term consequences for your health. These include:
- High blood Pressure
- Heart disease
- Pre-diabetes and diabetes
There are many people with sleep apnea who have not been diagnosed or received treatment. A sleep medicine physician can diagnose obstructive sleep apnea using an in-lab sleep study or a home sleep apnea test. Sleep apnea is manageable using continous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy.
The front-line treatment for sleep apnea, oral appliance therapy or surgery. Obstructive sleep apnea in adults is considered sleep-related breathing disorder. Causes and symptoms differ for obstructive sleep apnea in children and central sleep apnea.
There are two types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): The more common of the two forms of apnea, it is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.
- Central Sleep Apnea: Unlike OSA, the airway is not blocked, but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe, due to instability in the respiratory control center.
Am I at Risk for Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea can affect anyone at any age, even children. Risk factors for sleep apnea include:
- Being overweight
- Being over age 40
- Having a large neck size (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women)
- Having large tonsils
- Large tongue, or a small jaw bone
- Having a family history of sleep apnea
- Gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD
- Nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum, allergies or sinus problems