Sleep apnea is a major health problem that causes more than noisy snoring. When you have sleep apnea, you actually stop breathing while you are asleep, often without being aware it’s happening. When left untreated, sleep apnea can have very serious consequences, including stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, exhaustion, falling asleep at the wheel, and a greater chance of being hurt at work.
There are many known risk factors for sleep apnea, including age. Here’s how your age can affect your chances of having sleep apnea.
Who is At Risk for Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common condition that affects an estimated 18 million adults in the U.S., according to the National Sleep Foundation. There are many risk factors for the condition:
How Age Affects Sleep Apnea
- Being male.
- Being African-American or Hispanic.
- Smoking, which increases fluid retention and inflammation of the airway. Smokers are three times more likely to have sleep apnea than non-smokers.
- Being overweight. Being overweight with a BMI of 25 or more or being obese with a BMI of 30 or more increases the risk of sleep apnea.
- Large neck size. The risk of sleep apnea increases with a neck size of 17 inches or more in men or 16+ inches among women.
- Frequent alcohol consumption.
- Being over the age of 40. While sleep apnea can happen at any age, it is most common among people who are over 40.
- Family history of sleep apnea.
Age is a major risk factor for sleep apnea, but it’s not true that all patients fit the standard profile. The idea that it’s mostly overweight, middle-aged men who develop sleep apnea is a misconception and it can lead to misdiagnosis in patients who don’t fit this mold. Women with sleep apnea, for instance, are often mistreated for another type of sleep disorder like insomnia because many physicians do not expect sleep apnea in women.
Sleep apnea can occur ay any age and it may occur in children or young adults who have other risk factors. Certain age groups are at a higher risk of the condition, and there are age groups for which the cause and best course of treatment differs.
Sleep Apnea in Children
It’s estimated that 2-3% of children of any age have sleep apnea. Children who snore may do so for many reasons, including obesity, cigarette smoke exposure, respiratory infection, a deviated septum, or enlarged tonsils. In most cases, children develop sleep apnea due to enlarged tonsils. These glands block the airway and stop airflow from reaching the lungs. This causes blood oxygen levels to fall and causes the child to make choking sounds. Unlike in adults, obesity is not a major risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea as it is for young children, according to a study published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).
Sleep Apnea and the Elderly
The risk of sleep apnea and other sleep disorders increases with age. Over 50% of seniors aged 65 and over have some type of chronic sleep problem. According to a study published by the American Thoracic Society (ATS), the prevalence of sleep apnea among men is 3.2% between the ages of 20 to 44 but 18% by the age of 61 and older.
It’s believed the elderly have higher rates of sleep apnea due to increased fatty deposits around the neck and head, changes in the structure surrounding the pharynx, and lengthening of the soft palate.
Sleep Apnea and Menopause
While men have a higher risk of sleep apnea than women, the risk increases for women after menopause. Post-menopausal women who are not on hormone therapy have a higher risk of the sleep disorder, possibly due to the weight gain and hormonal changes of menopause. It’s believed that higher levels of progesterone and estrogen protect women against sleep apnea prior to menopause as these hormones help maintain the muscle tone of the airway. As hormone levels decline, the incidence of sleep apnea in women increases. According to one study, 7% of women 61 and older had obstructive sleep apnea compared to just 0.6% between 20 and 44.
Sleep apnea is often misdiagnosed in older women as the symptoms can overlap. Symptoms such as weight gain, mood changes, poor concentration, and difficulty sleeping can be symptoms of menopause as well as a sleep disorder.
Orthognatic Surgery for Sleep Apnea
For many patients suffering with obstructive sleep apnea, orthognatic or jaw surgery is the best permanent solution to improve sleep quality and overall health. While CPAP machines and mandibular advancement devices can improve sleep apnea for many people, these non-invasive solutions are not always enough to improve symptoms and reduce the risk of complications from sleep apnea.
When conservative treatment does not work to treat sleep apnea, jaw surgery may be recommended. Orthognatic surgery is necessary when the jaw must be repositioned to improve breathing problems and open the airways. This procedure typically involves advancing the jaws to open the airways laterally to prevent the airway collapse associated with obstructive sleep apnea. While jaw surgery is an invasive solution, major complications are rare and even minor complications are uncommon and temporary. Jaw surgery is considered one of the most effective and safe treatment options for patients of all ages who have moderate to severe sleep apnea and have failed to see improvement with conservative approaches.
Are You a Candidate?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious condition that requires treatment to reduce your risk of complications. If you have obstructive sleep apnea, you may be a good candidate for orthognatic surgery if you have not responded well to conservative treatment options like a CPAP machine. During your initial consultation, Dr. Jamali, a board-certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon, will perform a detailed medical history and assess the anatomical relationships in your maxillofacial region. This ay involve an exam with a flexible fiber optic camera to confirm and visualize the obstruction.
If you are a good candidate for the procedure, Dr. Jamali will explain the best surgical intervention to correct the problem, such an UPPP procedure on the back of the soft palate and throat under light IV sedation.
Don’t compromise your health by living with the effects of sleep apnea; schedule a consultation with Dr. Jamali.