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Sleep apnea: Are snoring people at risk?

Snoring is not unusual and sometimes it’s harmless. But when it comes to sleep apnea, snoring can become downright dangerous. What if it causes you to periodically stop breathing at night?

There are three types of apnea: central, mixed, and obstructive. All three types result in people not breathing repeatedly during their sleep, yet varies. In central sleep apnea the brain fails to signal the chest and diaphragm muscles to respire and is quite rare. Mixed apnea is the combination of central and obstructive sleep apneas. The most common type of apnea is known as obstructive sleep apnea and is a condition where breathing is periodically interrupted due to airway obstruction during sleep. This condition occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat relax much like when a person snores. With sleep apnea, the relaxed muscles block the airway causing the breathing passage to the lungs to become momentarily obstructed.

The airway obstruction is usually cleared after about 10 to 30 seconds when the brain is alerted and signals the body to trigger a resumed breathing pattern. During the obstruction, oxygen flow is halted or limited. This response causes gasping, snorting, and waking up in order to tighten the throat muscles and restore normal breathing.

In adults obstructive sleep apnea is as common as diabetes. The usual risk factors include being male, overweight, and over forty years old.

“Obesity is the most common cause found in adults. About 50% of obese adults have sleep apnea and most of them are men. About 12% of men and only 2% of women suffer from sleep apnea,” explains Kimberly Mebust, MD, and the Executive Director for MultiCare Health Systems for Sleep Disorders Centers.

Among the symptoms for adults snoring, disturbed sleep, and daytime sleepiness are the most common. Heart complications and high blood pressure can be caused by obstructive sleep apnea, and researchers are starting to realize that many other medical conditions like diabetes may also be adversely affected by sleep apnea. Sleep apnea does not only affect adults, but children as well.

Obstructive sleep apnea, as compared to mixed or central apnea, is the most common type of apnea found among children and typically occurs in children 2 to 6 years olds. Nighttime snoring is the most common symptom for children since kids often have enlarged tonsils and adenoids that contribute to a narrowed air passage. Other nighttime symptoms that apply to adults as well include restless sleep and sleeping in unusual positions as well as pauses, gasps and snorts when breathing.

During daytime one suffering from sleep apnea might appear overtired, irritable, or might have trouble paying attention since they are not getting sufficient sleep. Children may develop behavioral problems or experience difficulties at school. In one recent study presented at the American College of Chest Physicians, children who snored loudly were twice as likely to have learning problems. Following a night of poor or interrupted sleep, children also are more likely to be hyperactive or have difficulty paying attention, symptoms often associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“With children the most common cause of sleep apnea is enlarged tonsils and adenoids, which often requires an adenotonsillectomy (surgical removal of the tonsils and adenoids), yet the obesity problem among adolescences can contribute as well,” says Kimberly Mebust.

How common is sleep apnea among children? According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep apnea is said to affect more than twelve million Americans, and as many as 1-3% of otherwise healthy preschool-age children experience sleep apnea, yet many are not being treated for it. If left untreated, sleep apnea can eventually result in significant risk, even death. If you suspect that you or your child might be suffering from sleep apnea, give us a call. We will be able to determine whether or not further evaluation to see if you have sleep apnea is indicated.

“The usual treatment for sleep apnea is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) which carries air into the airway through a nasal mask, but the best treatment can be determined by your primary care physician,” states Kimberly Mebust, MD.

To further educate yourself about sleep apnea refer to these sites:
sleepapnea.org
sleepforkids.org
Snoring and Sleep Apnea in Children.pdf