5 reasons sleep apnea is more common than you think


Snoring is something that has disturbed happy sleepers since the beginning of time, but it could be more than just an annoyance. In the United States, 18 million of these snorers may be taking breaks in their breathing without knowing it. These millions have sleep apnea, though it is estimated that 80 percent of sleep apnea cases are undiagnosed.

Here are five facts about sleep apnea that make it more common than you think.

Is it snoring or sleep apnea?

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Millions of people snore, but many of them may not know they could have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is more than just snoring. It occurs when breathing stops for 10 seconds or more. This break in breathing can happen many times during the night, causing people to wake up feeling unrested. Other signs of sleep apnea include waking up with a dry throat, morning headaches and attention problems.

What causes sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea can be caused by physical or neurological issues or both. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by soft tissue blocking the airway. This happens as muscles relax during sleep, which allows the soft tissue in the mouth and throat to sink into the throat and block the airway. Central sleep apnea is caused when signals from the brain do not work correctly and stop or slow breathing.

Who is at risk for sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea occurs at all ages, but is most common in people over the age of 40. It is more common in men, as well as women who are postmenopausal. Being overweight is a risk factor for sleep apnea, as is a family history of the condition. Some physical features increase the risk of sleep apnea, such as having a narrow airway or a large tongue, tonsils or uvula.

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How does sleep apnea affect me?

Sleep apnea can cause a host of issues for people if it is left untreated. It can hamper cognitive function like decision-making and memory. The lack of sleep it causes can lead to depressed mood and attention problems. It can also lead to long-term health problems like hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and more.

Jim Morrison, executive director of South Bay Post Acute Care, has worked with older adults who’ve snored their whole lives without realizing they have sleep apnea, and their health has suffered for the lack of a proper diagnosis. “Elderly people with sleep apnea have a higher risk of suffering a stroke. If you or your partner snore loudly, consider talking to your doctor about whether you could have sleep apnea.”

How can sleep apnea be treated?

The most common treatment for sleep apnea is a face mask known as a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). The face mask creates an open airway for air to flow through. While the mask is worn, pressure in the upper airway is increased, allowing it to stay open while a person sleeps.

If you or your partner is a loud snorer, your log-sawing could be putting you at risk of health problems. Talk to your doctor if you think you may be suffering from sleep apnea. With treatment, you can get the good night’s sleep you didn’t know you were missing.

A version of this article was published by the Daily Herald. It has been republished here with permission.

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