Doctors are not 100% sure what causes obstructive sleep apnea in some people and not others. However, some scientists believe obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a neurological issue in which a problem with the brain causes the tongue and soft palate to relax too much.
While researchers don’t yet know what causes a sleep apnea diagnosis, there are some characteristics that may increase a person’s risk of developing severe sleep apnea. If you are a middle-aged, overweight male who prefers sleeping on your back, you may fit the profile for someone who could develop sleep apnea.
In fact, men are four times as likely to have obstructive or central sleep apnea than women. However, it is common for women to develop apnea during pregnancy or after menopause.
Being overweight or obese is one of the biggest risk factors for this sleep disorder. Being overweight is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 29.9, while a person is considered obese with a BMI of 30 or more.
In fact, getting a sleep apnea diagnosis is six times more likely when you experience a 10% gain in body weight. However, there are many other risk factors to consider. These include the following:
- A narrow throat
- A round head
- Excess growth due to hormones
- Deviated septum (the structure that separates your nostrils)
- Medical conditions that congest the upper respiratory system
However, there are plenty of people with a sleep apnea diagnosis who do not fit the characteristics listed above. Smoking, drinking alcohol and using sedatives or tranquilizers are additional risk factors for this condition.
Central apnea is common in those who have serious illnesses, such as:
- Chronic heart disease
- Brainstem or upper spinal injuries
- Parkinson’s disease
- Kidney failure
- Severe arthritis
Other central sleep apnea causes could be due to drug use, including opiate drug use. If this describes you, you may consider talking with your doctor to see if one or more of these conditions could be central sleep apnea causes in your case.
Adults are not the only group that can get a sleep apnea diagnosis; in fact, children can experience this disorder as well. Fortunately, it is not common, only affecting between 1-4% of all children (including babies).
Pediatric sleep apnea is most common in children between the ages of 2 and 8, but can happen at any age. Some risk factors for pediatric sleep apnea include:
- Enlarged tonsils
- Having a large overbite
- Having Down syndrome
- Having Pierre-Robin syndrome
Pediatric sleep apnea can cause mood problems, a wandering mind, hyperactivity and poor impulse control. In fact, some children suffering from pediatric sleep apnea may be misdiagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In children who do have ADHD, pediatric sleep apnea can worsen the symptoms. In addition, children with untreated pediatric sleep apnea are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease later in life, especially if the child is overweight.