If someone in your immediate family has been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, you are more likely to also suffer from this disorder. Sleep disorders contribute to long sleepless nights and a struggle to stay awake during the day. It can also cause missed days at work and damaged relationships due to irritability. Let’s break down the factors that cause obstructive sleep apnea and see what you can do to sleep better if diagnosed.

Three Kinds Of Sleep Apnea

There are three types of sleep apnea, but only obstructive sleep apnea might be hereditary:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: the most common form of sleep apnea that we often associate with snoring that occurs when throat muscles relax during sleep, and there is less room to breathe
  • Central Sleep Apnea: when asleep, your brain doesn’t send the right electrical impulses to your muscles telling you to breathe. According to scientific studies, central sleep apnea is not genetically passed down. “Some of the underlying causes of central sleep apnea, such as certain heart issues, may have a genetic component. However, most of the causes do not, and there’s little evidence that central sleep apnea itself is hereditary.” (1)
  • Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome (Treatment-emergent Central Sleep Apnea): occurs when you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) Hereditary?

According to Medlineplus, “The risk of developing [obstructive sleep apnea] is about 50 percent greater for first-degree relatives (such as siblings or children) of affected individuals as compared to the general public.” 

It looks as though the family you are born into does contribute to your chances of developing obstructive sleep apnea. One way to help your family and yourself is to learn more about sleep disorders and how they are treated.

If you are more at risk for a sleep disorder, keep a sleep journal to make sure you get your recommended amount of sleep for your age. If you notice that you wake up multiple times each night or have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, let a sleep specialist evaluate you so that you can find solutions.

Risk Factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

There are specific risk factors for OSA that, according to sleep studies, include inheriting:

  • Shorter midface length
  • Suffering from Brachycephaly (a flat back of head infant syndrome)
  • Larger tongue size or tongue size compared with the rest of your mouth and throat.
  • Shorter maxilla bones (in the cheeks on either side of the nose)
  • Length and position of your mandibles (bones in your lower jaw)
  • Placement of your hyoid bones (in your throat)  (1)

As you can see, the many different ways that bones may form your face and throat shape contribute to OSA. However, there are new therapies for OSA that can help you overcome the obstacle of not getting enough sleep despite your inherited bone and tissue structures. 

Seeing your ENT doctor is a good starting point as they specialize in health issues with your face and neck bones. They specialize in non-invasive treatments and also the surgeries needed to correct facial shapes that may contribute to your lack of sleep.

Other Contributing Factors

Other factors contribute to OSA. Some may be passed to the next generation genetically, while others may come from dietary or exercise habits or overall bad health. The most prevalent contributing factor is obesity.

Weight issues tend to run in families, whether because of nutritional habits or pure genetics. When you have extra weight on your throat and face, the excess tissues, water weight, and puffiness overall can contribute to less room in your throat as you relax muscles and fall asleep.

Obesity alone does not seem to cause OSA. Craniofacial structures (bones in your face and neck) may contribute to problems by not giving your fatty tissues enough space. Because we all possess different facial structures, your inherited genetic makeup may contribute to whether you struggle with obstructive sleep apnea.

Scientific Facts to Ponder

If you are more at risk for developing OSA, see a sleep specialist quickly if you start developing sleep troubles. An ENT specialist who can diagnose a sleep disorder helps you find the best treatment options to avoid becoming another statistic. 

A study entitled “Disparities and genetic risk factors in obstructive sleep apnea,” published in Sleep Medicine, gleaned these facts about genetic factors:

  • The craniofacial structure among Asians appears to confer an elevated risk of OSA despite lower rates of obesity. 
  • Among African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics, OSA prevalence is increased, likely due in part to obesity. 
  • The burden of symptoms, particularly excessive daytime sleepiness, is higher among African Americans, though Hispanics more often report snoring. 
  • Limited data suggest African Americans may be more susceptible to hypertension in the setting of OSA. 
  • Among pediatric patients evaluated in a sleep clinic, African American race is associated with a 20% increase in OSA severity and greater oxygen desaturation. 
  • African American children are 4-6 times more likely to have OSA compared to white children. 
  • Even among young adults less than 26 years of age, African Americans are 88% more likely to have OSA as compared to whites.”

Solutions for OSA

Despite your risk factors, the most important fact is that there is help available for OSA. If you have trouble sleeping, see your doctor early. If you are at risk for OSA, solutions exist for this disorder. See your doctor to find out what types of treatments might work for you. 

Many medical solutions for obstructive sleep apnea can leave you falling asleep easier, staying asleep longer, and waking up feeling refreshed again. Isn’t that what we all need to lead productive and satisfying lives?

We Can Help

At Enticare, our knowledgeable ENT doctors specialize in sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea. We stay abreast of the latest medical solutions for OSA and constantly look at new research and areas of study. Our dedication to keeping up with the best treatments available gives you the possibility of sleeping well again. Schedule your sleep study today and get on the path to waking up refreshed again. Contact us and find out how we can help.

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