What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a medical condition and sleeping disorder that causes you to stop breathing for about 20 seconds many times throughout the night. Each time you stop breathing, your body rouses itself to force you to start breathing again. Each of these stop-start breathing cycles is called an apnea event, and they essentially prevent you from getting restful sleep, leading to moderate to severe sleep deprivation. OSA can cause significant and negative impacts on your life. Some are more at risk to develop OSA than others, the question is: are you at risk?
Apnea events can happen anywhere from 40 (mild sleep apnea) to 240+ (severe sleep apnea) times per night. You won’t remember these events in the morning. Whether or not you stop breathing 50 or 150 times per night, the result is that you become chronically sleep deprived.
The point is that the consequences are largely the same, the difference may only be the severity of the symptoms and rapidity of damages done.
While there are many potential consequences, they are all related to causing:
- A shortened lifespan
- A lower quality life
- Medical complications
There are various factors that will put you at risk for developing OSA, including:
- Medical and biological risk factors
- Physical risk factors
- Lifestyle risk factors
Let’s look at these risk factors in more detail.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Before we look at risk factors, it’s important to note what the telltale symptoms of sleep apnea are [WebMD]:
- You repeatedly stop breathing throughout night, and rouse waking/gasping
- You suffer from loud, chronic snoring
- You wake up exhausted in the morning
- You wake up with headaches
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- You wake up with excessive dry mouth with regularity
- You suffer from irritability chronically
- You have a reduced sex drive or struggle with ED
- You suffer from a number of other sleep deprivation symptoms
Obstructive sleep apnea may go undiagnosed because you won’t notice some of the telltale signs, such as not breathing at night and snoring loudly.
Biological and Medical Risk Factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
There are certain medical and biological factors that increase your risk for developing OSA. They include the following:
- Having diabetes
- Genetics/family history
- Having certain medical conditions that cause sleep apnea (rare)
- Requiring certain medications for health reasons (such as pain relievers)
- Age/Sex (older men are most common demographic for sleep apnea)
- Having high blood pressure
- Chronic nasal congestion
Physical Risk Factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Physical risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea relate to the physical attributes of your body. You may have some control over these, such as with your weight. You may not have control over these factors, such as having a small airway.
Here are primary physical risk factors that may influence the development or severity of OSA.
- Being overweight or obese
- Having a thick or large neck
- Having smaller airways in your throat, nose or mouth.
- Having enlarged tonsils
- Having a deviated septum
- Having a large tongue
Lifestyle risk factors for sleep apnea
Though medical and physiological risk factors can play a large role in developing OSA, lifestyle factors also can spark the onset of OSA. Some lifestyle factors linked to OSA include:
- Sleeping on your back
- Drinking excess alcohol
- Narcotic use (i.e., painkillers)
Fortunately, unlike medical and physiological risk factors, which may require medical intervention such as CPAP therapy, lifestyle factors may treated on their own by things like:
- Changing sleep position
- Quite smoking/drinking
- Find alternative medication to narcotics
Treatment for Sleep Apnea
The vast majority of people who suffer from sleep apnea treat it with CPAP therapy, which provides constant positive airway pressure (CPAP) using CPAP devices. Surgery is usually not needed.
For mild cases of sleep apnea, non-medical interventions may be recommended by your doctor.
If you live in Alaska and need to confirm a sleep apnea diagnoses, please contact us to get a sleep study (they are normally covered by insurance).