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    Obstructive Sleep Apnea Explained

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    Who Gets Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

    It’s more likely if you're overweight or obese, have a thick or large neck, or have smaller airways in your nose, throat, or mouth. It can also happen if you have enlarged tonsils or too much tissue at the back of the throat -- the uvula and soft palate -- that hangs down and blocks the windpipe. A larger-than-average tongue can also block the airway in many people as well as a deviated septum in the nose.

    The condition is more common among men than women, and it becomes more likely as you get older. But it’s not a normal part of aging.

    Other risk factors include:

    • Smoking
    • Diabetes
    • High blood pressure
    • Being at risk for heart failure or stroke

    Diagnosis

    Your doctor will give you a checkup and ask about your sleep. He may also want to ask people who live with you about your shut-eye 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:

    • Air flow
    • Blood oxygen levels
    • Breathing patterns
    • Electrical activity of the brain
    • Eye movements
    • Heart rate
    • Muscle activity

    The study will track how many times your breathing was impaired during sleep.

    Treatment

    The possible options include:

    Weight loss, if needed. Losing even 10% of your weight can make a difference.

    Avoid alcohol and sleeping pills, which make the airway more likely to collapse during sleep and lengthen the times when you’re not breathing properly.

    Sleeping on your side, if you only get mild sleep apnea when you sleep on your back.

    Nasal sprays, if sinus problems or nasal congestion make it harder to breathe while you sleep.

    CPAP machine. This device includes a mask that you wear over your nose or mouth, or both. An air blower forces constant and continuous air through the nose or mouth. The air pressure is just enough to keep the upper airway tissues from collapsing during sleep. Other types of positive airway pressure devices are also available, including the BPAP, which has two levels of air flow that vary with breathing in and out.

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