It is during sleep that people are supposedly having the most restorative and restful time in the day. This is not true, however, with people with obstructive sleep apnea. Their apneic events, which happen when there are breath pauses, wake them hundreds of times a night and therefore disturb what should be a continuous, good night’s sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs for a number of reasons. However, not all people are aware of them, which makes it hard for the potential patients to seek immediate medical attention. Treatment is necessary, but it starts by knowing the risk factors and causes of obstructive sleep apnea.
1. Problems in the airway. Obstructive sleep apnea results from an obstruction in the airway, which is usually caused by certain problems in the airway components. These include the upper and lower jaws, tonsils, soft palate, tongue, and throat muscles.
Some sleep apnea cases involve over-relaxed throat muscles and tongue. When a person sleeps, his muscles normally relax, but when his throat muscles and tongue relax more than normal, it results in narrowing of the airway and causes apneic events.
Enlarged and collapsed soft palate and tonsils also cause obstructive sleep apnea.
2. Structural abnormalities. Anatomical abnormalities contribute to a person’s tendency to experiencing obstructive sleep apnea. For instance, the bone structure and shape of the head and neck may affect the size of the airway. A thicker neck may mean narrower airway. Moreover, large tongue and tonsils may also have an effect on the air passage. There are also structural abnormalities in the jaw, nose, and mouth that appear in people with craniofacial syndromes, making them more prone to obstructive sleep apnea. About 50% of those with Down Syndrome, for example, experience obstructive sleep apnea largely due to decreased muscle tone, comparatively large tongue, and narrower nasopharynx.
3. Obesity. Studies show that obesity has a part to play in the development of obstructive sleep apnea. Fatty cells tend to amass and clog the throat tissue, thereby causing narrowing of the airway. Obese people with sleep apnea are also shown to have more pressure on the airway, which results in more obstruction.
1. Being Male. Obstructive sleep apnea is more likely to occur among men, although women are predisposed after menopause. Statistics show that one out of 50 middle-aged women has obstructive sleep apnea, compared to one out of 25 among middle-aged men.
2. Old age. Children and adolescents may have obstructive sleep apnea, although those over the age of 65 are twice or thrice more likely to experience it.
3. Use of alcohol, sedatives, and cigarette. Alcohol and sedatives make the muscles more relaxed. Smoking, on the other hand, is said to cause inflammation in the upper airway, thereby making smokers thrice more prone to obstructive sleep apnea.
4. Family history. Sleep apnea seems to run in the family. Therefore, those with family members suffering from obstructive sleep apnea should be more careful for being at a heightened risk.
5. Snoring. Though snoring indicates the presence of obstructive sleep apnea, chronic snoring, in some cases, is said to also cause apneic events. This is because frequent vibration due to snoring may cause the soft palate to stretch, thereby increasing its possibility to collapse. It doesn’t mean, however, that snoring automatically makes a person a candidate for obstructive sleep apnea. Snoring should not be regarded as a sole factor. Other risk factors and causes of obstructive sleep apnea should also be considered.