What Causes Sleep Apnea?

  • Posted on: Feb 24 2015

Sleep Apnea occurs when an airway becomes partially or fully blocked. Normally, our throat muscles remain stiff when we are awake (to help to keep our airway open so that air can flow in and out of our lungs), and relaxed when we are sleeping.

Sometimes, however, these throat tissues relax too much and an individual’s airway becomes blocked. Not enough air flows into the lungs when this happens and loud snoring can occur. So can a drop in oxygen levels. If oxygen levels drop too far it triggers the brain to disturb sleep.

So what are the causes of sleep apnea?

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Certain factors put individuals at higher risk for sleep apnea. They include:

Obesity. Extra soft fat tissue can thicken the wall of the windpipe if you are overweight. This makes it harder to keep open and contributes to blocked airways.

Advanced Age. Just as increasing age affects our memory and physical ability, it also affects our brain’s signaling capabilities. The aging process can lose it’s ability to keep throat muscles stiff during sleep over time. Sleep apnea occurs more frequently in individuals over the age of 60.

Anatomic Abnormalities of the Upper Airway. This may include a smaller airway size, large tongue and tonsils, or overly relaxed throat muscles.

Male Gender. Men are twice as likely to have sleep apnea. (However, women’s risk increases after menopause and with obesity.

Family History. If others in your family have or have had sleep apnea, you may have an increased risk.

Alcohol or Sedative Use. Substances such as these may relax throat muscles and lead to airway blockage.

Smoking. Smoking may increase the amount of inflammation in the upper airway and therefore smokers are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea.

Beyond the discomfort of snoring and waking, sleep apnea can lead to more serious health issues such as heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure. Untreated sleep apnea can be dangerous, so it’s important to have the condition assessed.

Contact us for a sleep apnea evaluation.

Published by: Grand Rapids Dentistry Blog – A Life of Smiles
A Grand Rapids, Michigan based cosmetic, general & sedation dentistry

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