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    Obstructive Sleep Apnea Explained

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    What Is Sleep Apnea?

    When you have this condition, your breath can become very shallow or you may even stop breathing -- briefly -- while you sleep. It can happen many times a night in some people.

    Obstructive sleep apnea happens when something partly or completely blocks your upper airway during shut-eye. That makes your diaphragm and chest muscles work harder to open the obstructed airway and pull air into the lungs. Breathing usually resumes with a loud gasp, snort, or body jerk. You may not sleep well, but you probably won't be aware that this is happening.

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    Could Your Child Have Sleep Apnea?

    When her son was in preschool, Cynthia Chin-Lee remembers teachers saying he would fall asleep during playtime. Now, 10-year-old Joshua is impossible to rouse in the mornings, saying, "I need to sleep 10 more minutes. Leave me alone." Joshua seems tired, he has bags under his eyes, and he's not doing well in school, explains Chin-Lee, 53, a manager at a software company in Palo Alto, Calif. Chin-Lee's husband had a theory: Maybe their son had sleep apnea, a condition with which her husband had recently...

    Read the Could Your Child Have Sleep Apnea? article > >

    The condition can also reduce the flow of oxygen to vital organs and cause irregular heart rhythms.

    Symptoms

    The most common obstructive sleep apnea warning signs include:

    • Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
    • Dry mouth or sore throat when you wake up
    • Headaches in the morning
    • Trouble concentrating, forgetfulness, depression, or irritability
    • Night sweats
    • Restlessness during sleep
    • Problems with sex
    • Snoring
    • Waking up suddenly and feeling like you're gasping or choking
    • Trouble getting up in the mornings

    If you share a bed with someone, they'll probably notice it before you do.

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

    • Bedwetting
    • Choking or drooling
    • Sweating a lot at night
    • Ribcage moves inward when they exhale
    • Learning and behavior disorders
    • Problems at school
    • Sluggishness or sleepiness (often misinterpreted as laziness in the classroom)
    • Snoring
    • Teeth grinding
    • Restlessness in bed
    • Pauses or absence of breathing
    • Unusual sleeping positions, such as sleeping on the hands and knees, or with the neck hyperextended

    Talk to your doctor if you notice any of these problems. There are a lot of other possible causes for these symptoms as well.

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