What is sleep apnea?

Warning signs of sleep apnea include snoring, nighttime gasping, pauses in breathing during sleep, and daytime sleepiness.
Warning signs of sleep apnea include snoring, nighttime gasping, pauses in breathing during sleep, and daytime sleepiness.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that can potentially lead to serious systemic health complications. It is a condition that causes a person to intermittently stop breathing during sleep. This is often indicated by the presence of snoring. Sleep apnea can affect anyone, including children, but it more commonly affects older men who are overweight.

What are the warning signs of sleep apnea?

The warning signs of sleep apnea include

  • Snoring that is loud enough to disturb others
  • Waking up gasping or choking
  • Noticeable intermittent pauses of breathing during sleep
  • Excessive daytime drowsiness, causing one to fall asleep while working, watching television or even driving a vehicle

Snoring can disrupt the sleep of another person sharing the room, often causing marital discord.

Warning signs of sleep apnea in children

  • Snoring 
  • Mouth breathing while sleeping
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Bedwetting
  • Behavioral problems

What are the risk factors of sleep apnea?

Anyone can develop obstructive sleep apnea. However, certain factors put people at an increased risk, which include

  • Weight: Most patients with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight.
  • Medical conditions: Medical conditions that are associated with obesity, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and polycystic ovary syndrome, can also cause obstructive sleep apnea. 
  • Narrow airwayThe tonsils or adenoids (lymphoid tissue similar to the tonsils behind the nose) may become enlarged. This is common in children and sometimes in adults. This can obstruct airways. Tumors in the throat and nasal congestion or blockage can also obstruct the airway.
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure): Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in people with hypertension.
  • SmokingPeople who smoke are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Gender: Sleep apnea is more common in men. The risk of obstructive sleep apnea increases in women after menopause.
  • A family history of sleep apnea: Having a family history of sleep apnea increases a person’s risk.
  • Decreased muscle tone: Muscle tone decreases with age and lack of adequate physical activity causes the muscles around the upper airway to become floppy and it narrows the airway.

What are the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea?

Signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include

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Medically Reviewed on 8/13/2020
References
Medscape Medical Reference

Sleep Foundation


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


SleepApnea.org