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Are You at Risk for Sleep Apnea?

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.



Sleep apnea is a serious sleeping disorder that can lead to serious health problems. Heart problems and high blood pressure may be a result. Almost a billion people worldwide between the ages of 30-69 have this condition.

This sleep disorder occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. When sleep apnea is not treated a person will stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, which may occur hundreds of times. The heart rate slows down the more the body is deprived of oxygen.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are a few types of sleep apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Central Sleep Apnea. It is possible for someone to have both types of sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a blockage in the airway, which is typically the soft tissue the back of the throat collapsing while sleeping. Your bed partner may recognize this type due to loud snoring. This is the most common type of sleep apnea.

Central sleep apnea is usually found in patients that have a central nervous system disorder, such as a stroke or a neuromuscular disorder like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). It can also occur with congestive heart failure and other types of diseases of the kidney, lung or heart.


Risk Factors

Men are affected more often than women, affecting 25% of men and nearly 10% of women. The risk for women does increase after menopause and with obesity. risk The risk factors include:

  • Age - middle-aged or older people have an increased risk
  • Obesity -a fat deposit around the upper airway
  • Heart disorders - People with congestive heart failure
  • Neck circumference - having a thicker necks can mean a narrower airway
  • Narrowed airway - due to tonsils or adenoids (especially in children)
  • Family history - family members with sleep apnea
  • Narcotic pain medications - opioids, especially long-acting ones like methadone
  • Alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers - may relax throat muscles
  • Stroke - increases risk of central sleep apnea
  • Nasal congestion - difficulty breathing through the nose
  • Smoking - smokers are three times more likely to get obstructive sleep apnea

Other medical conditions that may Parkenson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome and chronic lung disease, such as asthma.

Sleep Apnea | What Is Sleep Apnea | Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Some of the symptoms that you may notice with obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Daytime tiredness despite a good night’s sleep (hypersomnia)
  • Sudden awakenings with a sensation of choking or gasping for breath
  • Restless sleep, frequent awakening
  • Night sweats
  • Dry mouth or sore throat upon waking
  • Cognitive impairments, like trouble concentrating, forgetfulness, irritability
  • Mood disturbances, such as anxiety or depression
  • Waking with a headache
  • Frequent nighttime urination
  • Sexual dysfunction

Unfortunately, children can also get sleep apnea, and the symptoms are not as obvious. However, the symptoms include:

  • Sleepiness or drowsiness during the day (children are considered lazy in the classroom)
  • School performance is poor
  • Inward movement of their rib cage when inhaling
  • Daytime mouth breathing
  • Swallowing is difficult
  • Excessive nighttime sweating
  • Sleeping positions may be unusual (on hands and knees with hyper-extended neck)
  • Bedwetting
  • Behavior disorders oe learning disabilities (hyperactivity or attention deficit disorder)
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Untreated Sleep Apnea

When sleep apnea is left untreated it can cause several health problems, and they include:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Cardiomyopathy or heart failure (enlarged heart muscle)
  • Stroke
  • Work-related accidents
  • Job impairment
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Underachievement in school for children


Your doctor will probably refer you to a sleep specialist if you are having sleep apnea symptoms. Then, you will be asked to have an overnight sleep study polysomnogram (PSG). You will spend the night in a sleep laboratory under direct supervision of a trained technologist. Some of the things they evaluate are eye movement, electrical activity of the brIN, HErt rate, muscle activity, air flow and blood oxygen level.

Adults may have a Home Sleep Test (HST), which is a modified type of evaluation. Fewer body functions are recorded but snoring, airflow, breathing effort and blood oxygen levels are evaluated. This test is not used for those with other significant health problems.

Obstructive sleep apnea CPAP machine with two models of masks

Obstructive sleep apnea CPAP machine with two models of masks

Conservative Treatments

In mild cases of sleep apnea there are some conservative therapies that may be helpful, including:

  • Obese patients can benefit from weight loss. Even a 10% weight loss will reduce the number of apneic events for most patients. Losing weight can be difficult with untreated obstructive sleep apnea due to increased appetite, plus metabolic changes.
  • Patients with obstructive sleep apnea should avoid sleeping pills and alcohol as they make the airway more relaxed.
  • Patients with mild sleep apnea may benefit from using a wedge pillow or other devices that help them sleep in a side position.
  • Patients with sinus problems may benefit from nasal sprays or breathing strips to improve their airflow.

Medical Therapy

The preferred treatment for obstructive sleep apnea positive airway pressure therapy (PAP). Patients wear a mask over their nose and/or mouth that have the right amount of air pressure to keep their airways from collapsing during sleep.

There are several types and styles of positive airway pressure devices include:

  • CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) is the most common PAP device, which has one single pressure.
  • Bi-Level PAP uses a lower pressure level for exhalation (when breathing out). Insurance companies require a CPAP machine to be tried with no success.
  • Mandibular advancement devices are used for mild to moderate sleep apnea. Oral mandibular advancement devices or dental appliances prevent the tongue from blocking the throat and they may advance the lower jaw forward. A sleep specialist and a dentist determine if this is the right therapy.
  • Hypoglossal nerve stimulator is implanted under the skin on the right side of the chest. It has electrodes that tunnel under the skin to the hypoglossal nerve in the neck and to the intercostal muscles (between 2 ribs). It is turned on at bedtime using a remote control. This moves the tongue forward so it does not block the throat. Inspire is a new treatment using this type of therapy.

There are also some surgical procedures done as outpatient procedures for those with obstructive sleep apnea. Some people have a deviated septum that can be corrected. People with malformed tissue that obstructs their airflow may also need surgery. Enlarged tonsils or a small lower jaw with an overbite can be corrected. Surgery is used when patients do not respond to other treatments.

A Potential Solution for Those Struggling With Sleep Apnea - Nebraska Medicine

Final Thoughts

Sleep apnea is a serious problem for many people. It is important to know the symptoms and get treatment if this might be a problem. Treatment is very important to maintain good health. There are new types of treatment and research is ongoing.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2022 Pamela Oglesby

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