Are there any physical warning signs of sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea does have some physical features and warning signs that you can observe and measure. Usually, these are noted during your physician’s physical exam but can also be seen simply by looking in the mirror.

The first physical warning sign to look out for is your weight. About two-thirds of all people with sleep apnea are overweight or obese. It doesn’t matter if a person has been heavy his or her entire life, or if the weight gain occurred in recent years.

Another physical indicator is a large neck circumference (a collar size of 17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women) is also a common characteristic of sleep apnea because it often indicates fat tissue surrounding the airway which makes it more likely that the airway will collapse during sleep. In some studies, neck size was a stronger predictor of sleep apnea than the severity of obesity.  Neck thickness is largely, but not totally, a result of obesity.

sleep apnea bee

sleep apnea bee

Along with obesity and neck size, the following structural abnormalities can also be warning signs of sleep apnea. What they all have in common is that they impede airflow.

  • The shape of the tongue – Look at your tongue, is it large, fat, wide, thick, or long? Increased fat not only affects your tongue but can also impair its muscle function, making it more likely to sag and block your airway.
  • Small throat airway – Is your airway the size of a nickel? a quarter? or bigger? You will need to have your physician examine you to determine this.
  • Small upper jaw bone – Relative to the rest of your face, this is a common cause of an underbite.
  • Small lower or recessed jaw bone – Relative to the rest of your face, this is a common cause of an overbite.
  • Soft Palate Characteristics – Some people have specific abnormalities in the soft area (palate) at the back of the mouth and throat that may lead to sleep apnea. These abnormalities include the soft palate being stiffer or larger than normal, or both. An enlarged soft palate may be a significant risk factor for sleep apnea since the soft palate and the walls of the throat around it collapse easily.
  • Enlarged tonsils or adenoids (applies to children) – Removing the tonsils or adenoids is often the first treatment choice for children. That’s because swollen tonsils and adenoids are often the cause of sleep apnea in children. However, this type of treatment is rarely used in adults.
  • Deviated septum – The nasal septum is the barrier between the two nostrils that is made up of bone and cartilage that essentially divides the nasal cavity into two halves where air passes equally through when breathing in and out. However, if the nasal septum is off-center or crooked, then this creates an imbalance in airflow that can make breathing difficult in certain circumstances such as when suffering from a head cold or when trying to sleep at night. A deviated septum can either be inborn or can develop following an injury to the nose such as blunt force trauma due to a baseball hitting you on the nose.

To check your nose perform the following test:

  • Place an index finger against the right nostril and breathe in while noting how easily air passes through your left nasal passage.
  • Repeat with an index finger against the left nostril and breathe in while noting how relatively easier or harder it was to breathe through your right nasal passage.

Chances are that if you answered yes to two or three of these anatomical anomalies, then you may have sleep apnea. So the next time you see your physician, please discuss this with him/her

Please check out our Sleep Apnea Blog to learn more about Sleep Apnea.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post about sleep apnea and baseball and I urge you to continue educating yourself about sleep apnea. Click here to read our blog post about sleep apnea and baseball.

You can save people’s lives and be a superhero.  All you need to do is learn about sleep apnea and then educate others then you will help save lives and make the world a better place!