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A good night’s rest is an important part of overall health, and anything that hinders that should be taken seriously and treated promptly. Sleep apnea is a serious disorder that if left untreated can lead to dangerous consequences. It is estimated that nearly 22 million Americans currently live with sleep apnea, with nearly 80 percent of those cases being undiagnosed.

Sleep apnea can affect both children and adults. A common risk factor for developing sleep apnea is obesity. Other common causes include:

  • Age – young adults and those of middle age are more likely to develop this disorder.
  • Neck size – a neck circumference of 17 inches or larger leads to an increased risk because there is more soft tissue that can block the airway.
  • Gender – men are four times more likely to have sleep apnea than women, although women are at higher risk during pregnancy and menopause.
  • Other health conditions – those that suffer from hypertension, stroke, diabetes, GERD, hypothyroidism, and heart problems are more likely to develop sleep apnea.
  • Hereditary – roughly 25%-40% of people diagnosed with sleep apnea have a family member that also suffers from the condition. This may be because of similar physical features like a recessed jaw, as well as similar lifestyle habits like diet and exercise.
  • Ethnicity – African-Americans, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders are more at risk of developing sleep apnea than Caucasians.

Treatment for sleep apnea often includes addressing the underlying causes of the disorder. Weight loss, surgery to remove tonsils or adenoids, and treatment of certain dental conditions such as an overbite are common ways to help sleep apnea symptoms.

Certain allergies and other health factors such as a deviated septum may also cause congestion in the airways which makes sleep apnea more common. Treatment of these conditions will often provide relief to sleep apnea sufferers.

Those that smoke, consume excessive amounts of alcohol, or take sedatives are also more likely to develop this condition. Oftentimes cutting back or stopping these behaviors will lead to relief of sleep apnea symptoms.

When other treatments don’t work, a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine may be prescribed. This machine has a mask that goes over the mouth or nose and provides continuous airflow to the airways to prevent this harmful sleep disorder.