Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times.
There are two types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): The more common of the two forms of apnea, it is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.
- Central sleep apnea: Unlike OSA, the airway is not blocked but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe due to instability in the respiratory control center.
Sleep apnea can affect anyone at any age, even children. However, risk factors for sleep apnea include:
- Male gender
- Being overweight
- Being over the age of forty
- Having a large neck size (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women)
- Having larger tonsils
- Having a family history of sleep apnea
If left untreated, sleep apnea can result in a growing number of health problems including:
- Heart failure, irregular heart beats, and heart attacks
In addition, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for poor performance in everyday activities, such as at work and school, motor vehicle crashes, as well as academic underachievement in children and adolescents.