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
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
At least 12 to 18 million Americans have sleep apnea.3
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
Malhotra A, White DP (2002). Obstructive sleep apnea.
Lancet, 360(9328): 237–245.
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.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National
Institutes of Health (2005). Your Guide to Healthy Sleep
(NIH Publication No. 06-5271). Available online:
Chan J, et al. (2004). Obstructive sleep apnea in
children. American Family Physician, 69(5):
Young T, et al. (2002). Epidemiology of obstructive
sleep apnea. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 165(9): 1217–1239.
Primary Medical Reviewer
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
Mark A. Rasmus, MD - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Sleep Medicine
June 17, 2011
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
June 17, 2011
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