Do Genes Play a Role in Sleep Apnea?

Genetics are responsible for human traits that aren’t environmentally influenced as well as tendencies toward certain health conditions, including ENT conditions. At a deeper level, traits defined by a person’s genes can determine not only whether someone develops sleep apnea but also which type it will be. But how does this affect your overall health and what can you do about it?

Types Of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea occurs when breathing stops during sleep and disrupts a person’s sleep cycle, even waking them up. It can happen dozens of times per night, resulting in chronic fatigue during the day, even if the sleeper gets eight full hours of sleep. The three types of sleep apnea are:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea – This is when the throat muscles collapse, blocking the airways.
  • Central sleep apnea – This is when the brain fails to signal the muscles to allow breathing.
  • Complex sleep apnea – This is a combination of both types.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

In Obstructive Sleep Apnea or OSA, the throat muscles relax and block the airways. This prevents effective breathing, which causes less oxygen to get into the blood. This causes the brain to prod the sleeper awake for a second to get them to breathe voluntarily. The sleeper rarely remembers this, and it can happen many times per night.

In Central Sleep Apnea, CSA, your brain simply fails to signal your lungs to inhale. This usually results in awakening with shortness of breath. CSA often makes it difficult to get back to sleep quickly or stay asleep.

How Do Genes Affect Sleep Apnea?

Those with close family members suffering from sleep apnea have been generally found to inherit the condition. Genetics are responsible for up to 40% of sleepers with sleep apnea. Certain factors that are influenced by your genes can predispose sleepers to encounter sleep apnea, including:

  • Neck size. Those with large necks tend to have narrow airways.
  • Facial construction. The length and width of the jaw, nose, face, and skull determine how narrow a person’s airway is and if it’s easily blocked.
  • Sex. Males are more likely to experience sleep apnea than women, although women can have it relatively often if they’re in menopause or overweight.
  • Nasal conditions. Inherited allergies, adenoids, and tonsils sizes often contribute to sleep apnea.
  • Obesity. Weight problems often have a hereditary component, and extra weight around the neck and upper torso often makes it easier to disrupt a person’s airways.
  • Age. Older men and women more frequently have sleep apnea than younger folks.
  • Smoking, drinking, or using sedatives to sleep. All these substances relax the throat muscles, making sleep apnea happen.
  • Underlying medical conditions. OSA can be caused by or made worse by conditions like Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and Parkinson’s disease, to name a few. Similarly, stroke and heart diseases increase the risk of Central Sleep Apnea.

Do Children Get Sleep Apnea?

The same conditions and complications apply to children as they do to adults:

  • Face and head shape affect the size and therefore constriction likelihood for the airways.
  • Health conditions like Down syndrome or cerebral palsy affect the airways.
  • Enlarged tonsils, adenoids, and nasal congestion contribute to sleep apnea.
  • Medications like opioids and sedatives affect the airways.
  • Obesity is perhaps the most prevalent condition that affects sleep apnea. The last three decades have seen a steep rise in childhood obesity across all ethnicities from the ages of two to 19.

Treating Sleep Apnea in Denver, CO

If you or a family member suffers from sleep apnea, please schedule a consultation with Dr. Steven Wilk at Denver Sleep Apnea Center or call 303-758-4865.

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