What are the Most Common Causes of Sleep Apnea?

man snoring in bedSleep apnea can disrupt the quality of your sleep, making you snore and feel sleepy during the day. If you have this sleep disorder, determining its cause will help your doctor decide how to treat your sleep apnea.

In this blog, the board-certified sleep physicians at eos sleep diagnostics explain more about common sleep apnea causes.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that occurs when you have repeated pauses in breathing as you sleep. These pauses can occur hundreds of times a night, causing you to repeatedly move from a deep sleep into a light sleep. The amount of oxygen in your blood also drops, which can have widespread effects.

This chronic condition needs treatment in order to improve, but many people who have sleep apnea don’t know it. A visit to the doctor may be prompted when your partner complains about your snoring or by symptoms associated with this disorder.

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea can cause the following symptoms:

  • Ongoing loud snoring
  • Choking, gasping, or snorting sounds as you sleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness - even after spending enough time in bed – that can make you feel drowsy while driving or at work
  • Quickly falling asleep during quiet moments in the daytime, such as watching TV or reading
  • Morning headaches
  • Dry mouth or a sore throat when you wake up
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, and learning
  • Awakening frequently at night

In addition, having sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).

What are the most common sleep apnea causes?

Your throat muscles keep your airway stiff and open while you’re awake, allowing air to easily flow into your lungs. While you sleep, your throat muscles relax, causing your throat to narrow, but you’re normally able to still breathe easily. However, your airway can become blocked because of one or more of the following sleep apnea causes:

  • Excess weight – If you’re overweight – especially in the neck area – your airway can become narrowed due to extra tissue.
  • Mouth structure – Extra soft tissue in the mouth, a large tongue or one that has poor muscle tone, excess soft palate tissue, and enlarged tonsils or adenoids can block your airways. If you have a narrow throat, it’s also more likely to become blocked.
  • Nasal conditions/structure – Your airways can also be blocked by nasal issues such as chronic sinusitis (infection), allergies, enlarged turbinates, nasal polyps, or a deviated septum.

In addition, smoking and the use of sedatives can increase your risk of developing sleep apnea or worsen your symptoms.

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

Your symptoms and risk factors can make your doctor suspect that you have sleep apnea, but a sleep study is the only way to definitively diagnose sleep apnea.

During this non-invasive, painless test, you’ll wear monitors that record data about what happens in your body while you sleep. Your doctor will be able to find out about your breathing, brain waves, heart rate, movements, and more. Based on this information, he or she can confirm or rule out the presence of sleep apnea.

If you’ve already been diagnosed with sleep apnea and have been receiving treatment, a sleep study can also help your doctor determine how well it’s been working so your treatment can be adjusted if necessary. Make an appointment today!

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