Obstructive Sleep Apnea – Symptoms and Causes

by Srinivasan Rajendran on August 21, 2023

What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is when something blocks part or all of your upper airway while you sleep. Your diaphragm and chest muscles have to work harder to open your airway and pull air into your lungs. Your breath can become very shallow, or you may even stop breathing briefly. You usually start to breathe again with a loud gasp, snort, or body jerk. You may not sleep well, but you probably won’t know it’s happening.

The condition can also lower the flow of oxygen to your organs and cause uneven heart rhythms.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Common obstructive sleep apnea warning signs include:

  1. Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
  2. Dry mouth or sore throat when you wake up
  3. Headaches in the morning
  4. Trouble concentrating, forgetfulness, depression, or crankiness
  5. Night sweats
  6. Restlessness during sleep
  7. Snoring
  8. Waking up suddenly and feeling like you’re gasping or choking
  9. Trouble getting up in the mornings
  10. Waking up often in the middle of the night to pee
  11. High blood pressure
  12. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

If you share a bed with someone, they’ll probably notice your sleep apnea before you do.

Symptoms in children may not be as clear. They may include:

  1. Bed-wetting
  2. Choking or drooling
  3. Sweating a lot at night
  4. Ribcage moves inward when they breathe out
  5. Learning and behavior problems
  6. Problems at school
  7. Sluggishness or sleepiness (often seen as laziness)
  8. Snoring
  9. Teeth grinding
  10. Restlessness in bed
  11. Breathing that pauses or stops
  12. Unusual sleeping positions, such as sleeping on their hands and knees, or with their neck bent far back

Many other medical conditions can also cause these symptoms. Talk to your doctor to rule them out.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Causes

Obstructive sleep apnea usually happens when the muscles that control your airway relax too much, narrowing your throat. You wake up for a moment to reopen your airway, but you probably won’t remember doing it. This might happen dozens of times each hour.

Other things that block your throat can cause obstructive sleep apnea, like obesity, swollen tonsils, and health problems like endocrine disorders or heart failure.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Risk Factors

Anyone can have obstructive sleep apnea. It’s more likely if you:

  1. Are male
  2. Are older
  3. Have a family history of sleep apnea
  4. Have asthma
  5. Smoke
  6. Have diabetes
  7. Have high blood pressure
  8. Have a higher risk of heart failure or stroke
  9. Are overweight or obese
  10. Have a large or thick neck
  11. Have smaller airways in your nose, throat, or mouth
  12. Have too much tissue at the back of your throat that hangs down to block
  13. your airway
  14. Have a large tongue

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Complications

Complications of obstructive sleep apnea can include:

  1. Sleepiness during the day and trouble concentrating. Adults may have a higher risk of accidents, and children may have a hard time at school.
  2. Cardiovascular problems such as heart attack, high blood pressure, unusual heart rhythms, or stroke
  3. Eye problems such as glaucoma and dry eye
  4. Metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes
  5. Problems with pregnancy like gestational diabetes or low-birth-weight babies
  6. Complications after surgery

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Diagnosis

Your doctor will give you a physical exam and ask about your sleep. They may also want to ask people who live with you about your sleep habits.

You may need to spend a night in a sleep lab or have a sleep study done at your house. You’ll wear monitors to measure things such as:

  1. Airflow
  2. Blood oxygen levels
  3. Breathing patterns
  4. Electrical activity in your brain
  5. Eye movement
  6. Heart rate or rhythm
  7. Muscle activity and movement of your arms and legs

The study will track how many times you had breathing problems while you slept.

Let's discuss