Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition when your breathing becomes very shallow or stops while sleeping. Over 12 million people in the U.S. suffer from sleep apnea. It happens when there is a blockage in the upper airway and can occur hundreds of times a night for some people.
When the upper airway becomes blocked, the diaphragm and muscles in the chest work twice as hard to open the airways so that oxygen flows back into the lungs. This sometimes causes gasping, snorting and body jerks. It can also cause a reduction in oxygen flow to organs which then causes heart rhythms to be irregular.
Risk factors of sleep apnea include:
- older age
- high blood pressure
- risk of stroke and heart failure
Sleep apnea develops with age and occurs in one in 25 middle-aged men, and one in 50 middle-aged women (www.webmd.com). It is also common for Hispanics, African-Americans, Pacific Islanders and those who have a history of sleep apnea in their family.
This condition also develops more commonly in those with thick, large necks, larger tongues, and small mouth, throat and nose airways. If sleep apnea occurs in children and infants, it is normally caused by swollen tonsils. This should be checked out by their physician who can then refer a specialist if needed.
Sleep apnea is also linked to allergic rhinitis. Allergy symptoms can cause nasal congestion, which is associated with sleep apnea. If you are concerned about allergies or sleep apnea, contact an Allergist. They will test you for allergies, discuss your history and symptoms and can order an overnight sleep study to determine treatment. You do not have to suffer!