Are You at Risk for Sleep Apnea?
Snoring is more than just a nuisance for your partner. It could be a symptom of a potentially serious yet common disorder known as sleep apnea. An estimated 25 percent of adults are habitual snorers, and while not always the case, these noisy rumblings may increase your risk for a host of health problems that impact quality of life.
Obstructed sleep apnea is a common yet severely underdiagnosed condition. Recent studies indicate that 20 percent of American adults suffer from mild sleep apnea, which translates to some 40 million people. This disease can affect anyone, regardless of age or sex. It occurs when the throat muscles narrow or temporarily close during sleep, restricting air flow and interrupting breathing. Sufferers usually snore loudly, and are awoken repeatedly through the night, sputtering as they gasp for air.
Today, we have a much greater understanding of obstructive sleep apnea, including its causes and most reliable treatments. Research and anecdotal evidence has also shown us some of the factors that increase risk for developing sleep apnea.
Besides heavy snoring, what are some other risk factors for sleep apnea?
Who is at risk for sleep apnea?
Here are nine factors that increase sleep apnea risk.
- Gender – While OSA can affect both sexes, the American Lung Association finds that middle-aged men are twice as likely to have sleep apnea compared to women of a comparable age.
- Smokers – Smoke is an irritant that causes airway tissues to swell. According to a 2001 study, smokers are nearly three times more prone to developing sleep apnea than non-smokers.
- Weight – There is a strong correlation between obesity and sleep apnea. Research has shown that a modest 10 percent gain in body weight can increase sleep apnea risk six-fold.
- Anatomy – People who have a long, soft palate are more likely to have sleep apnea, as this narrows the opening from the nose into the throat. Also, those who have a “disproportionate” jaw size that is too small for a normal-sized tongue.
- Large tonsils/adenoids – Sleep apnea is more common in adults, but pre-school children are also prone to the disorder if their adenoids or tonsils are enlarged. A tonsillectomy usually resolves this issue.
- Family history – Scientists don’t believe that you can inherit sleep apnea, but genetics do play a role. If your father is being treated for moderate to severe OSA, there is a good chance that you may also be at risk due to similar jaw anatomy.
- Alcohol use – Wine, beer and hard liquor too close to bedtime may also be a hazard because of the relaxing effects that alcohol has on throat muscles. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism cautions that alcoholic use can extend the duration of sleep apnea episodes.
- Neck girth – According to WebMD, the larger the neck circumference, the higher the risk of obstructive sleep apnea. In men, this means anything over 17 inches, or 15 inches for women.
- Race and ethnicity – Thus far, studies have not shown an increased incidence of sleep apnea in certain races or ethnicities. However, rates of sleep apnea are much higher in Western countries, where obesity is much more prevalent.
When to get evaluated
Just because you don’t wake up the neighbors with buzz-like snoring, doesn’t mean you’re not at risk for sleep apnea. Even healthy men and women of normal weight can suffer. Look out for these warning signs:
- Excessive day time fatigue
- Morning headaches
- Frequently waking with a sore throat/dry mouth
- Diminished libido
- Inability to concentrate
- Restless sleep, waking up frequently at night
When getting evaluated for sleep apnea, the severity is determined by how often your breathing is impaired in a one-hour period. Some people may experience only a couple of episodes an hour, while others will suffer more than 20.
Sleep apnea dentist on Long Island
In the past, sleep apnea suffers were often prescribed CPAP machines, which suppress snoring and keep airways open as you sleep. While effective, these bulky devices involve strapping a mask to your face, which can be uncomfortable and claustrophobic to many.
In some cases, sufferers can get relief (and a good night’s rest) simply be wearing a custom-made oral appliance that moves the lower jaw forward. This can be fitted by your dentist, after a thorough assessment and evaluation.
Dr. Nick and Dr. Elliot are sleep apnea dentists Long Island trusts, boasting decades of experience successfully treating this common disorder. Call us today to set up a free sleep apnea consultation!
Additional Resources on Sleep Apnea Risk Factors:
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Who Is at Risk for Sleep Apnea? https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sleepapnea/atrisk
- Huffington Post, 8 Things That Increase Sleep Apnea Risk http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/06/sleep-apnea-risk_n_4018460.html
- Apneos, Sleep Apnea is Common — Who Gets It? http://apneos.com/whogets.html