Sleep Apnea Causes

Despite being a relatively new field of interest in medical research, sleep science experts have found several links to sleep apnea and other medical conditions. 

Understand The Causes Behind Sleep Apnea

In most cases (40%), obstructive sleep apnea (known as OSA for short) closely ties to weight issues and obesity; however, genetics, sex, health complications, and even neck structure are all suggested to play a part in developing the condition. Understanding the causes of sleep apnea can help patients and general practitioners better control their sleep apnea condition, reducing the severity of symptoms and educating others on preventative treatments. 

Three Common Causes Of Sleep Apnea

For most diagnosed patients, the common reasons for developing sleep apnea comes from three primary causes, lifestyle, aging, and gender. Although biological gender and the impacts of aging are beyond the control of preventative measures, lifestyle choices can play a major part in obstructive sleep apnea cases, the type of apnea most frequently seen in patient diagnosis. 

The Relationship Between Sleep Apnea And Gender

As far as research goes, the exact mechanisms that link gender and sleep apnea are still largely unknown. Upper airway structure (such as size and shape), hormones, and differences in aging are all thought to contribute to the differing rates of men and women developing OSA (obstructive sleep apnea), with men 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with sleep apnea – although some experts believe this is a result of women not seeking medical help for ongoing symptoms. Diagnosis rates even out once women hit post-menopausal age, but remain higher in men under the age of 50.

How Getting Old Increases The Risk Of Sleep Apnea

Aging is a part of life and a common cause of the progression of many medical conditions, owed to the chemistry in the body changing over time, causing alterations in hormones, muscles, and the responses of certain vital systems. For patients diagnosed with OSA, changes in the upper airways may increase the likelihood of collapsibility, with breathing issues becoming more prominent over time. Although patients over the age of 40 are more likely to develop sleep apnea, diagnosis can occur at any age – even in children. Other risk factors related to aging include changes in brain chemistry – which control breathing patterns and family history, such as genetically inherited conditions.

Sleep Apnea And Lifestyle Choices

It is well known that a healthy diet, exercise routine, and removing bad habits can be beneficial to overall health, but for apnea patients, it may also be a treatment in reducing symptoms and causes of the condition. Weight gain, drinking, and smoking can all raise your risk of developing sleep apnea, with alcohol causing the muscles in your throat to relax and smoking leading to inflammation in the upper airway. For milder cases of sleep apnea, lifestyle changes are initially prescribed to target common triggers or routines that may aggravate symptoms.

Other Possible Causes Of Sleep Apnea

A narrow throat may cause the muscles in the upper throat to relax during sleep, closing tissues and blocking the airway.

  • Abnormally low activity of the thyroid gland – known medically as Hypothyroidism, increases the risk of developing sleep apnea, due to damage in the nerve and muscles involved in breathing. 
  • Allergies are well known to create nasal congestion in some patients, leading to difficulties with breathing. Tonsils and adenoids may also swell, blocking the airway as they grow larger.
  • Although abnormalities in the airways (nose, throat, muscles in the respiratory system) will not always cause the development of sleep apnea, it can increase the severity of symptoms as it reduces airflow, leading to pressure building in the airways. 
  • Specific medications, such as sedatives, may further relax muscles during the night, making apnea symptoms and episodes more frequent. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (Osa) Diagnoses Are The Most Common

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most commonly diagnosed of the three types recognized by sleep experts. This type of apnea results from intermittent relaxation in the throat muscles, which narrows and obstructs the airways during sleep. Patients can also receive a diagnosis for Central Sleep Apnea (caused by miscommunication in the brain signaling and muscles which control breathing) and Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome (a combination of both OSA and Central Sleep Apnea). These two forms of the condition may present differently in symptoms and be caused by differing factors to OSA. 

Common Preventative Measures For Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Patients with an increased likelihood of developing sleep apnea due to lifestyle factors, family history, or medical conditions can take several preventative measures to reduce their chances of developing the condition or managing the severity of symptoms. These steps may not prevent the development of apnea entirely – but are encouraged by medical professionals to maintain a healthier lifestyle or support primary treatment plans. 

  • Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly: keeping fit and active helps to keep the body at a healthy weight, reducing risks of obesity and apnea-related complications such as narrowing airways due to fatty tissues. 
  • Avoid sleeping on your back: Encourage side sleeping where possible to prevent the tongue and soft palate from collapsing into your airway. 
  • Limit alcohol intake: avoid excessive alcohol as well as before bed, which may increase sedative effects, relaxing muscles and suppressing central nervous signals. 
  • Stop smoking: smoking is linked to several health complications as well as apnea, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Explore Sleep Apnea Treatments With The Sleep Matters

Although preventing the development of apnea may be possible for some people, not all those living with the condition will be able to avoid a future diagnosis by understanding underline causes or following specific preventative measures. For those working through a new or ongoing diagnosis, the ideal solution starts with working towards an ongoing treatment plan to manage the condition. This is why our team at Sleep Matters takes pride in offering safe, effective, and comfortable apnea care to patients in the Kanas City area, providing efficient apnea screening and alternative treatments endorsed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to help those diagnosed improve sleep quality and lead healthy, fulfilling lives. Contact us today to explore your options!