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How to Spot Sleep Apnea Early

Do you find yourself struggling to feel rested? Do you have mood and memory problems? Those issues might be caused by obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder that occurs when you struggle to breathe freely throughout the night and can lead to fragmented sleep. Sleep apnea affects 18 million Americans—and there are certain characteristics that can put you at a higher risk for the disorder. Look out for these five.

  1. A Higher BMI: While not everyone who is overweight or obese has sleep apnea, carrying around extra weight greatly increases your risk. The reason: Being overweight puts added pressure on your respiratory system, making it harder to breathe at night.
  2. A Large Neck Circumference: Pay special attention if your neck measures 17 inches or greater (for a man) or 16 inches or greater (for a woman) in circumference. The extra weight of a larger neck pushes on the airway while you sleep.
  3. Snoring: Around half of everyone who is a loud snorer has sleep apnea. The sound of snoring is caused by not breathing freely. With sleep apnea, snoring can actually get so bad that it sounds like you’re choking or gasping for air.
  4. Smoking and Alcohol Use: Alcohol can relax the muscles in the throat, which makes it easier for them to get obstructed. And smokers are also at a higher risk for sleep apnea—possibly because the tobacco irritates and inflames the upper airway, causing it to narrow.
  5. A Small Airway: Since sleep apnea occurs when you have trouble breathing at night, it makes sense that having a smaller airway can increase your risk. There are many reasons that yours might be small. For instance, maybe it’s just the natural shape of your nose and throat, or perhaps you have a large tongue or tonsils, or maybe you have bad allergies.

Some of these factors—like the size of your neck and the size of your airway—are obviously things that you can’t change. But you can try making lifestyle changes, such as getting your weight into a healthy range and reducing or eliminating tobacco and alcohol, to lower your risk for the disorder.

If you do suspect that you may have sleep apnea, don’t wait to see a doctor. It’s a serious disorder that can be life threatening, so you’ll want to treat it as soon as possible—both to protect your health and to get more sleep and feel more energized.

Talking to Your Doctor

If you are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, it’s important for you and your doctor to assess how it is affecting your health and quality of life. The following are good questions to ask your doctor about sleep apnea and excessive sleepiness. Here you will also find a screener for excessive sleepiness. You can print both of these and bring them to your next doctor’s appointment.

  1. Are you confident that obstructive sleep apnea is causing me to be sleepy during the day? Are there other possible reasons?
  2. In addition to medical treatment, what recommendations do you have about lifestyle changes — for example in my diet and exercise habits — that will help me?
  3. I often feel sleepy while I’m driving and it concerns me. What advice do you have?
  4. If I’m using my CPAP machine correctly, how long should it take for me to feel more alert and productive during the day?
  5. Please share some of the recent research and developments in obstructive sleep apnea treatment with me.
  6. What online resources can you recommend to find support and information?

Is Your Child’s Snoring A Sign of Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Habitual snoring is usually not a reason for parents be concerned. As many as one in 10 kids under the age of 10 snore regularly, with most of them tapering off as they get older. Sometimes though, snoring can be an indicator of a more serious condition, including pediatric obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—a condition that can result in disrupted sleep, cognitive impairments, and even death. Is your child’s snoring cause for concern? Here are some factors to consider before talking to your physician.

The Snoring Is Intense

Snoring is far and away the most common symptom of OSA, reported in more than 90 percent of cases. But as anyone who’s ever gone to sleepaway camp can tell you, not all snores are created equal. Take an extended listen to your child’s snoring: If the sounds are punctuated by gasps or labored breathing, or if they are accompanied by thrashing in bed, they could be a sign of a more serious condition.

Your Child Is Overweight

Childhood obesity is a growing contributor to kids at risk for OSA. A 20-year review by the Centers for Disease Control of obesity-associated diseases among children ages 6 to 17 found hospital discharges for sleep apnea in this population increased a whopping 436 percent during that time span.

Your Child Struggles with Bedwetting

One symptom of OSA is an increased risk for bedwetting at night. One possible explanation is that children who suffer from sleep-disordered breathing frequently produce more sweat and urine than normal, which may lead to bedwetting. OSA may also have an effect on a child’s arousal response, bladder pressure, or urinary hormone secretion, all of which could contribute to nighttime bedwetting.

Behavior Problems Are on the Rise

While snoring and other nocturnal symptoms can be clues to the presence of pediatric OSA, other signs may be more clear in the light of day. A bad night’s sleep can impact anyone’s daily routine, and kids are no different—especially in cases of chronic restlessness. Sleep disruptions related to OSA can leave kids feeling not quite themselves. Moodiness, disruptive behavior, and trouble paying attention may all be indications of disrupted sleep, particularly when combined with other symptoms.

While OSA can be serious, it’s also a very common and treatable condition. If you are concerned that your child’s snoring may be a sign of something more serious, talk with your family physician. You child may need to see a sleep specialist for a polysomnography—or sleep study—which can help with a more concrete diagnosis.

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