by Dr. Dana Rockey, DMD, Owner, Prescott Sleep Solutions
From cardiovascular disease to depression, sleep apnea can lead to serious health complications, which is why it’s very important to understand whether you may be at risk for the disorder.
We’re not saying that the 30 million people in the United States who have sleep apnea are exactly the same, but the odds are good they share some key risk factors.
Behind sleep apnea
For the purposes of this discussion, we’re only addressing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is far and away the most common type of the disorder.
With obstructive sleep apnea, soft tissues at the back of your throat collapse while you sleep, blocking your airways. In response, your brain partially rouses you so that you can clear your throat to breathe again.
If this happened once or twice a night, OSA wouldn’t be all that serious. Unfortunately, this occurs over and over, sometimes a dozen or more times per hour, which robs you of your sleep and can impact your health.
Major risk factors
While anyone can develop OSA, there are some conditions that place you at far greater risk for the sleep disorder, starting with obesity.
Of the millions of people with sleep apnea, about two-thirds are either overweight or have obesity. When there’s excess fat in your body, it can be stored anywhere, including in the soft tissues in your upper respiratory tract. These extra fatty tissues can narrow your airways and collapse while you sleep, hampering breathing.
Other factors include:
- Gender. Sleep apnea is more common in men.
- Anatomical issues. A large neck circumference or large tonsils can make a difference.
- Age. As you get older, fat can build up in your neck, and you can lose muscle.
- Drinking alcohol. Alcohol before bedtime relaxes the soft tissues at the back of your throat, making them more prone to collapse.
There also are certain medical conditions that count OSA as a complication, including hypothyroidism and kidney or heart failure.
How to know whether you have OSA
Of the 30 million people who have OSA in the U.S., only 6 million have been diagnosed. If you know you snore or you have one or more of the risk factors and you’re feeling a little lethargic during the day, it’s a good idea to be checked out.