What Causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea happens when your airway is blocked while you sleep. Your body wakes itself up momentarily to open the airway so you can breathe again. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by something that keeps air from getting through your airway. There are several risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea, including a narrowed airway, obesity, and smoking.
Other risk factors for sleep apnea include:
- High blood pressure
- Being male
- Family history of sleep apnea
The Size of Your Airway
The main cause of obstructive sleep apnea is a small airway. If your airway is naturally narrow it’ll be difficult for air to pass through, especially when you lay down and the muscles in your throat relax.
The size of certain parts of your airway can affect how much air can get through when you sleep. Your tonsils or adenoids can be too big, for example. Or in some cases, excess tissue on your tongue can fall back into your airway when you lay down.
Obstructive sleep apnea can also be caused by issues with your jaw. Many people with TMJ disorders also have sleep apnea. If your jaw joint is misaligned or too small it can cause problems with the position of your tongue, which can block your airway.
Obesity is a Risk Factor for Sleep Apnea
Obesity is one of the most common risk factors associated with sleep apnea. In fact, about 60-90% of adults with obstructive sleep apnea are also obese. Excess weight creates fat deposits on the throat that can block the airway during sleep. Obesity also reduces lung capacity which makes it easier for the upper airway to collapse, leading to sleep apnea.
Is Smoking a Risk Factor for Sleep Apnea?
Smoking is also a risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea. When you smoke you cause major damage to your airway. Smoking irritates your throat, mouth, and lungs. This causes inflammation, which leads to swelling. A swollen throat is hard to breathe through.
Some people believe smoking before bed will help them sleep better. But unfortunately, the opposite is true. Nicotine is a stimulant, like coffee. As the nicotine leaves your system, it can make you restless. Sleep apnea episodes will often happen during this time when the nicotine is leaving your body. The nicotine withdrawal combined with sleep apnea makes it almost impossible for you to get the sleep your body needs.
Knowing the Cause of OSA Helps Us Provide Better Treatment
When we diagnose OSA we look at any potential risk factors so we can determine the underlying cause. By doing this we are able to come up with a treatment plan that addresses every aspect of your obstructive sleep apnea.