Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person's breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. Often they are not aware that this is happening. This means the brain and the rest of the body may not get enough oxygen.
Types of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): The more common of the two forms of apnea, it is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.
Central sleep apnea: Unlike OSA, the airway is not blocked, but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe, due to instability in the respiratory control center.
Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea
- Being male
- Being overweight
- Being over age 40
- Having a large neck size (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women)
- Having large tonsils, a large tongue, or a small jaw bone
- Having a family history of sleep apnea
- Gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD
- Nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum, allergies, or sinus problems
Effects of Sleep Apnea
If left untreated, sleep apnea can result in a growing number of health problems, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure, irregular heartbeats, and heart attacks
- Worsening of ADHD
In addition, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for poor performance in everyday activities such as at work and school, motor vehicle crashes, and academic underachievement in children and adolescents.