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What Causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (interrupted breathing when you sleep) can cause snoring, daytime sleepiness, attention problems, forgetfulness, irritability, or abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath. If left untreated, this condition can cause more serious problems like heart failure, diabetes, or stroke. Your dentist can help treat sleep apnea, but learn some more about what causes sleep apnea and some of the factors that put you at risk for developing it.

Cause

When the throat muscles relax as you sleep, they no longer support the soft tissues in the back of your throat (which include the soft palate, uvula, and tonsils). These tissues collapse and can obstruct the airway, causing sleep apnea.

Risk Factors

There are several factors which increase your risk for getting this condition, some which can be controlled while others can’t.

  • Men are twice as likely to develop sleep apnea that women.
  • Being overweight is one of the most common risk factors of sleep apnea.
  • Those over the age of 40 are also more likely to develop this condition.
  • Some have a family history of sleep apnea.
  • A large tongue or tonsils can more easily block the airway (especially if the airway is narrow or the jaw is small).
  • Smokers are three times more likely to develop sleep apnea than non-smokers.
  • Alcohol and sleep medication relaxes the throat muscles even more.
  • Airway obstruction can be the result of nasal problems like allergies, sinus issues, or a deviated septum.

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