Obstructive sleep apnea refers to a condition where the muscles supporting the soft tissues in the throat, including the tongue and soft palate, momentarily relax. This relaxation causes a temporary constriction or closure of the airway, leading to interruptions in breathing. Among the various types of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea is the most common. It occurs when the throat muscles relax and obstruct the airway, often accompanied by snoring.

Certain factors and groups of individuals are more susceptible to developing obstructive sleep apnea. Men and individuals assigned male at birth before the age of 50 are more prone to this condition, although it affects both women and those assigned the gender corresponding to their birth equally. Obesity or being overweight significantly increases the risk, and Black, Hispanic, and Asian populations are more likely to experience it.

The Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat excessively relax, impeding normal breathing. These muscles provide support to the soft palate at the rear of the mouth, as well as the tongue, tonsils, uvula, and the tissue hanging from it. As these muscles relax, the airway narrows or closes during inhalation, making breathing challenging for durations of ten seconds or longer. Consequently, this can lead to decreased oxygen levels in the blood and a buildup of carbon dioxide.

Upon waking, individuals with obstructive sleep apnea may experience breathing difficulties that can be resolved with a couple of deep breaths. They may also snort, choke, or gasp. This cycle of interrupted breathing can occur five to thirty times or more per hour throughout the entire night.

Identifying Signs & Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

People suffering from sleep apnea often report difficulties waking up or a sensation of impaired breathing. Symptoms of sleep apnea are most noticeable in the morning. The condition involves intermittent pauses in breathing during the night. In addition to causing loud snoring, sleep apnea has significant negative consequences for overall health.

The following signs and symptoms may indicate the presence of sleep apnea: choking or gasping during sleep, loud snoring, morning headaches, waking up with a sore or dry mouth, excessive daytime sleepiness, mood changes like irritability or depression, high blood pressure, or decreased libido.

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