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Who Is Affected by Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs in all age groups. It can be mild, moderate, or severe, based on the number of times an hour that you stop breathing or have reduced airflow to the lungs during sleep.


Because sleep apnea is not always diagnosed, it is difficult to say how many people have it. One estimate notes that in North America, among people who are 30 to 60 years old, 4% of men and 2% of women have obstructive sleep apnea.1

Other studies show that among people 30 to 60 years old, 4% to 24% of men and 2% to 9% of women have OSA, depending on how the OSA is diagnosed.2

At least 12 to 18 million Americans have sleep apnea.3

About 70% of people who have OSA are overweight.1

African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders have the highest risk for OSA.3

Children and older adults

About 3% to 12% of children snore, and about 1% to 10% of children have sleep apnea.4, 2, 3 Most children have mild symptoms and may outgrow the condition. In young children, sleep apnea is usually caused by enlarged tonsils and adenoids.

One study reports that among people who are 65 to 95 years old, 70% of the men and 56% of the women had periods of stopped breathing or reduced airflow to the lungs 10 or more times per hour.5


  1. Malhotra A, White DP (2002). Obstructive sleep apnea. Lancet, 360(9328): 237–245.

  2. American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2005). Sleep-related breathing disorders. In International Classification of Sleep Disorders, Diagnostic Coding Manual, 2nd ed., pp. 178–181. Westchester, IL: American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

  3. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health (2005). Your Guide to Healthy Sleep (NIH Publication No. 06-5271). Available online:

  4. Chan J, et al. (2004). Obstructive sleep apnea in children. American Family Physician, 69(5): 1147–1154.

  5. Young T, et al. (2002). Epidemiology of obstructive sleep apnea. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 165(9): 1217–1239.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerMark A. Rasmus, MD - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Sleep Medicine
Last RevisedJune 17, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 17, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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