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What Causes Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that is associated with several stereotypes. Many believe that it only affects men or those who are overweight. It’s also a common misconception that sleep apnea is exclusively treated using a CPAP machine. In reality obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, affects a wide range of people. The cause and severity differs from person to person, so treatment should be tailored to the individual.

In this blog, Board Certified Otolaryngologist Dr. David O. Volpi discusses what sleep apnea is, what causes it and what the risk factors are.

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea and what are the common symptoms?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep caused by obstructions to the airway. A person with OSA may experience more than 20 such pauses each hour. One of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea is chronic snoring, but there are many other indicators of sleep apnea including:

  • Making gasping or choking sounds while sleeping
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Waking with a sore throat or dry mouth
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability, mood swings and depression

Sleep Apnea causes

No two patients experience sleep apnea exactly the same way. This is because the reasons for the breathing pauses are caused by different factors. Obstructive sleep apnea may be the result of a blockage in the airway relating to one of the following structures:

  • The tongue- The tongue is a common source of airway obstruction. This could be due to a large tongue; weak tongue muscles or a variety of factors that lead to the tongue falling back into the throat while sleeping.
  • The nose- Issues with the nose can cause or worsen snoring. Nasal congestion, a deviated septum, allergies or enlarged turbinates can all cause congestion or obstruction making it difficult to breath during sleep.
  • The soft palate- An elongated soft palate with excess soft tissue or an enlarged uvula can also block your airway completely or partially. This causes breathing pauses or loud snoring that sounds like “sawing.”
  • The tonsils- Much like excessive soft palate tissues, large tonsils can affect breathing and loud snoring. Symptoms may be worse when the throat is infected.

What factors increase the risk of Sleep Apnea?

Along with the main causes of sleep apnea, there are many additional factors that can lead to a higher risk of sleep apnea including:

  • The use of alcohol, drugs or sleep aids
  • Sleeping on your back
  • Advanced age
  • Being overweight
  • Large neck circumference
  • Smoking

The diagnosis of Sleep Apnea Causes

Because the causes of sleep apnea vary from individual to individual it is important to receive a thorough examination to identify what is triggering airway blockages and how severe the issue is. A sleep study may be conducted in a home-like laboratory setting.

Some patients may also be able to complete a comprehensive sleep study from the comfort of their own home. Dr. Volpi will evaluate the results of your study to make a definitive diagnosis.

Seeking treatment for Sleep Apnea

Though sleep apnea causes may differ, all sufferers are at risk for serious medical consequences such as hypertension, increased accident risk and stroke if the condition is left untreated. The first step in getting treatment is to meet with an ENT specialist with experience identifying and treating sleep apnea causes.

Dr. David Volpi is a Board Certified Otolaryngologist who is on staff at New York City’s best hospitals including Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital and Lenox Hill Hospital. He is one of the leading experts on snoring and obstructive sleep apnea in the country. To schedule your appointment, contact us via our secure web form.

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Posted in: Sleep Apnea, Sleep Apnea Treatments