Sleep apnea has many possible causes and while just about anybody can become afflicted there are factors that make getting obstructive sleep apnea more likely.
The most common cause of obstructive sleep apnea is excess weight. People who are overweight or obese are more likely to have sleep apnea than those that maintain a healthy weight. The reason is that sleep apnea can often be caused by excess fatty tissues that become built up in the neck and throat, which can lead to restrictions in airflow as the upper respiratory system’s pathway is narrowed or pinched off during sleep.
But many other factors also are associated with the condition.
What else causes sleep apnea? Age can also be a factor because as people age their muscles begin to lose muscle tone. This is also true of the muscles in the throat. As the throat muscles lose definition, they become weaker and more likely to collapse into the airways during sleep.
Enlarged tonsils or adenoids are also a leading cause of obstructive sleep apnea in children but can also affect adults who never had a tonsillectomy when they were younger.
Some people can be genetically predisposed to having a narrower throat or may have an enlarged tongue that falls back into their airway. If your family has a history of OSA you are more likely to have it yourself. My father has sleep apnea and so do I so for me it may be genetic.
Less common causes include a tumor or growth in the airway and birth defects such as Down syndrome and Pierre-Robin syndrome. Down syndrome causes enlargement of the tongue, adenoids, and tonsils and there is decreased muscle tone in the upper airway. Pierre-Robin syndrome actually has a small lower jaw and the tongue tends to ball up and fall to the back of the throat. Although childhood obesity may cause obstructive, it’s much less commonly associated with the condition than adult obesity.
Is there anything else that can cause sleep apnea? Finally, alcohol and smoking can be causes of sleep apnea. Alcohol use can be a cause since it relaxes the muscles in the body, and this includes the throat muscles as well which may relax to the point of blocking the airway during sleep. And smoking can act as an irritant to the lungs, throat, and esophagus, causing inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airways that can impede airflow.
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