standard-title Symptoms and Causes of Sleep Apnea

Symptoms and Causes of Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea Signs, Symptoms and Causes

One of the most common signs of sleep apnea is loud and chronic snoring. Throughout the night there might be pauses in the snoring, which may also result in choking or gasping. Snoring is typically the loudest when you sleep on your back—it might be less noisy when you sleep on your side. And, while you may not snore every night, the pauses in breathing might occur every night.

You are asleep when your snoring or gasping happens, which means you are unaware of this. You won’t be able to tell that you are having problems breathing unless a family member or bed partner notices the problems. It is also important to note that not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, just as not everyone who has sleep apnea snores. Other signs and symptoms of sleep apnea are:

  • Excessive sleepiness during the day
  • Falling asleep while driving
  • Morning headaches
  • Memory or learning problems
  • Not being able to concentrate
  • Waking up frequently to urinate
  • Dry mouth or sore throat when you wake up

By understanding the signs and symptoms, as well as causes, you can better care for yourself or your bed partner.

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Causes of Sleep Apnea

So, what are the causes of sleep apnea? The most common form of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which means there is a blockage of the breathing passage or a collapsed airway. When your airway is blocked, it causes a difficulty in breathing because it is keeping air from traveling freely. When you’re awake, your throat muscles help to keep your airway stiff and open so air can flow into your lungs. And, when you sleep these muscles relax, which narrows your throat—this doesn’t prevent air from flowing into and out of your lungs. However, if you suffer from sleep apnea, your airway can become partially or fully blocked because of the following reasons:

  • Your throat muscles and tongue relax more than normal.
  • Your tongue and tonsils are large compared to the opening into your windpipe.
  • You’re overweight.
  • The shape of your head and neck may cause a smaller airway size in the mouth and throat area.
  • The aging process limits your brain signals’ ability to keep your throat muscles stiff during sleep.

As a result, not enough air flows into your lungs if your airway is partially or fully blocked during sleep. In the end, you or your loved one will experience loud snoring and a drop in your blood oxygen level.


Who is at Risk for Sleep Apnea?

As stated previously, obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the breathing pathways through the mouth, nose or throat are collapsed or blocked. These airways are susceptible to blockages or collapse as the muscle tone lining these pathways relax during sleep. Overweight individuals are the most at risk for experiencing sleep apnea due to excess tissue, which may place pressure on the airway. More than half of those with sleep apnea are classified as overweight—an issue we really need to tackle.

Your risk for developing sleep apnea significantly increases with increased weight, age and those with diabetes, as well as smokers. You may also be susceptible to sleep apnea if you have a constricted shape or small size of features in the nose, mouth or throat. Allergies and other medical conditions can also cause features along the airway to restrict the flow of oxygen. On the other hand, sleep apnea is often more common in men than women. It is also more common among African Americans, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders than Caucasians. Sleep apnea can also occur during pregnancy and following menopause.


Contact Dr. Bonnie Foster for more information and to find out if you might be suffering from sleep apnea.

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