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Sleep Apnea (cont.)

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Obstructive sleep apnea usually occurs when the throat muscles and tongue relax during sleep and partially or completely block the airway. When you stop breathing or have reduced flow of air into your lungs during sleep, the amount of oxygen in your blood decreases briefly.

See pictures of normal and blocked airwaysClick here to see an illustration. during sleep.

Bone deformities, enlarged tissues

Obstructive sleep apnea can also occur if you have bone deformities or enlarged tissues in your nose, mouth, or throat. For example, you may have enlarged tonsils. During the day when you are awake and standing up, this may not cause problems. But when you lie down at night, the tonsils can press down on your airway, narrowing it and causing sleep apnea.

In children, the main cause of sleep apnea is large tonsils or adenoidsClick here to see an illustration..

Other causes

Other things that may contribute to sleep apnea include:

  • Drinking alcohol, which affects the part of the brain that controls breathing. This may relax the breathing muscles and cause a narrowing of the airway and sleep apnea.
  • Obesity. Fat in the neck area can press down on the tissues around the airways. This narrows the airways and can cause sleep apnea. About 7 out of 10 people who have sleep apnea are obese.1
  • Some medicines that are taken for conditions such as allergies, long-term pain, insomnia, or anxiety. These medicines, such as narcotics, can also relax the muscles and tissues in the throat, causing it to narrow.

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