Do you know WHY you have sleep apnea?

Let’s use this thread to have a discussion about why each of us has sleep apnea.
I think its an important topic and something most patients don’t even think about.

I believe if we all knew the anatomical anomalies that cause our airway to be blocked or airway collapse, or nasal issues, we would have a better understanding of the importance of treatment and what our individual best treatment options are. No one cares more about our health than us, right? We need to take responsibility to better understand our osa condition to be in the drivers seat, working WITH our doctors to manage our apnea. If we know the anatomical features and we know how highly hereditary it is, we can also inform family members to be on the lookout for.

Unfortunately, most doctors do not share with us patients, the cause of our apnea. We don’t think to ask, they don’t think to tell us. It wasn’t til years after my diagnosis that I read somewhere that osa was highly hereditary. That got me thinking…what did I inherit and from whom? It was easy enough when I looked back at family history and identified the snorers, the hypertension, the diabetes, the early age strokes, the narrow jaw and the long or wide tongues.

A doctor sat with me one day and said, all you need to do is open your mouth wide and look inside!
Here is the list he told me to note:

How big is the hole in the back of your throat (airway); is it the size of a nickle or half dollar? It should be something in between.

Are your tonsils enlarged so that they impede your airway size? Has anyone said you have enlarged adenoids? So even if you have a normal size airway, if your tonsils and adenoids impede, that can cause apnea.

Is your uvula long, thick or wide? It should not be dragging on your tongue base. If your uvula is abnormally enlarged, it can impede airway size and cause apnea

Do you have an overbite or lower recessed jaw? when the body relaxes as we fall asleep, so does the jaw and tongue. They naturally fall back, and if one has an abnormally lower recessed jaw, that can impede the airway size.

Look in a mirror, stick out your tongue, do you see subtle or obvious tooth marks that run down the sides of your tongue?
This would imply your tongue is too large for your mouth. He told me a normal healthy sleeper sleeps with mouth closed and teeth together allowing the tongue to fit nicely inside. The tongue naturally relaxes and falls back during sleep, so if it is abnormally long, thick or wide, it can lay sandwiched between the teeth, partially or totally block the airway

Has a dentist mentioned a high arched palate or abnormally shaped palate? If so, this might contribute to the tongue not fitting well in the mouth. He also told me bottle fed babies are more prone to having high arched palates.

So, these are just a few of the very common anatomical causes of sleep apnea. Most of us have more than one issue from the above list. Most of these anatomical features are indeed inherited.

In my family, its the tongue and jaw. I also have a high arched soft palate, probably from being a bottle fed baby. I determined the inherited features are clearly from my paternal grandmothers line. Many of my family members are now diagnosed and treated.

Do you know what your anatomical causes are? Did your doctor educate you or did you figure it out on your own? If you never thought about it before, I hope you enjoy my sharing these tidbits …go for it… open wide and look inside!

I just read that our modern diet contributes to the prevalence of OSA. The older diet required more chewing and this expanded the mouth box at an early age. Also, bottle feeding of children as exasperated the same problem by not expanding the mouth box at an early age. Another reason why we all need braces.