Obstructive sleep apnea, the more common type of apnea, results from a collapse of the soft tissue in the back of the throat. A patient's sleeping patterns are interrupted when the soft tissue blocks the airway, causing the patient to stop breathing for a short period of time. Once the body reacts to a lack of oxygen, it jolts the patient to awaken and take a quick breath.
An elongated soft palate and enlarged tonsils have also been shown to be factors in cases of obstructive sleep apnea. Obesity and morbid obesity are common in many apnea patients, and weight gain can play a part in the development of this condition.
Central sleep apnea is caused by a central nervous system dysfunction and can develop in patients who have had a stroke, heart attack, or other condition.
While much research has been conducted and is underway currently, there is no single identifiable cause in every sleep apnea patient. Some researchers have found that certain conditions like obesity, encephalitis, neurodegenerative diseases, and cervical spine complications actually lead to sleep apnea. Denture wearers with sleep apnea face special complications and risks. Patients with sleep apnea should not remove their dentures at night.
While the most common sleep apnea patient is an overweight male over age 40, sleep apnea can develop in anyone, including women, children and infants.
Potential causes or contributing factors to development of sleep apnea:
- Weight gain or obesity
- Lack of sufficient sleep
- High blood pressure
- Presence of allergies
- Anatomic abnormalities, such as nasal obstruction, small jaw, deviated septum, narrow airway, or enlarged tonsils
- Snoring (can be a cause and symptom!)
- Genetic predisposition
- Immune system abnormalities
- Alcohol and sedatives
- Any condition that may obstruct breathing, such as hypothyroidism, neuromuscular disorders, Down's Syndrome, etc.
- Nasal congestion
- Heartburn or acid reflux
- Not breast fed as an infant
Minimize your risk of health problems as a result of sleep apnea. Maintain a healthy weight, eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep each night, and visit your doctor for annual check-ups.