Sleep Apnea Causes and Effects

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Everyone gets accused of snoring at some point in their life. Sometimes the culprit is simply a cold virus or allergies.


But if you’re often feeling drowsy during the day and having trouble concentrating at work, be sure to talk to your health provider. You could have sleep apnea – a disorder that affects more than 18 million Americans.


Left untreated, sleep apnea can increase your risk for serious health problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, heart attack, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Pregnant women with sleep apnea have a higher chance of developing high blood pressure and giving birth prematurely, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.


The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, which is caused by relaxation of soft tissue in the back of the throat that blocks the passage of air. Central sleep apnea is caused by irregularities in the brain's normal signals to breathe.


People who have obstructive sleep apnea repeatedly stop breathing for several seconds while they’re asleep. They may make snorting sounds or gasp for air. Sleep apnea can be caused by a number of things including obesity, large tonsils, neuromuscular disorders and heart or kidney failure.


It’s usually the spouse who first notices sleep apnea symptoms. If you have sleep apnea, you may wake up in the morning with a headache or dry mouth. Some people also wake up often during the night to urinate.


Sleep apnea can affect anyone.


From young children to older adults, people of all ages, genders and races suffer from sleep apnea. Women who have sleep apnea often experience headache, fatigue, depression and anxiety. Children may wet the bed, have problems with hyperactivity, learning and academic performance.


If you’re overweight, you are more likely to develop this sleep disorder. Weight can affect the severity, too. Excessive body fat causes the airway walls to thicken and narrows the inside of the windpipe, according to the NHLBI. Drinking alcohol, smoking and taking certain medications, such as opioid pain killers, may worsen sleep apnea symptoms.


Lifestyle changes help reduce symptoms.


If you have sleep apnea, you can make healthy lifestyle changes to help control and treat the disorder:

  • Eat a healthy diet and limit how much alcohol you drink. Do not drink before bedtime.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.

  • Develop healthy sleeping habits.

  • Quit smoking.


Sleep apnea treatments work.


Depending on the type of sleep apnea you have and its severity, your health provider may recommend using a breathing device to make sure you get enough oxygen while you sleep. A CPAP machine – continuous positive airway pressure – involves wearing a mask throughout the night. Many people immediately notice a difference in how they feel after using a CPAP machine.


If your sleep apnea is mild or only occurs when you are lying on your back, your health provider may suggest getting a custom-fit oral appliance from your dentist.


However, if your sleep apnea is severe and doesn’t respond to lifestyle changes or using a CPAP machine, your doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy or jaw surgery to enlarge the upper airway.

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