Sleep apnea can affect anyone. Even children can have sleep apnea. But certain factors put you at increased risk:

Obstructive sleep apnea

  • Excess weight. Fat deposits around your upper airway may obstruct your breathing. However, not everyone who has sleep apnea is overweight. Thin people develop this disorder, too.
  • Neck circumference. People with a thicker neck may have a narrower airway.
  • A narrowed airway. You may have inherited a naturally narrow throat. Or, your tonsils or adenoids may become enlarged, which can block your airway.
  • Being male. Men are twice as likely to have sleep apnea. However, women increase their risk if they're overweight, and their risk also appears to rise after menopause.
  • Being older. Sleep apnea occurs significantly more often in adults older than 60.
  • Family history. If you have family members with sleep apnea, you may be at increased risk.
  • Race. In people under 35 years old, blacks are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers. These substances relax the muscles in your throat.
  • Smoking. Smokers are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than are people who've never smoked. Smoking may increase the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway. This risk likely drops after you quit smoking.
  • Nasal congestion. If you have difficulty breathing through your nose — whether it's from an anatomical problem or allergies — you're more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.

Central sleep apnea

  • Being male. Males are more likely to develop central sleep apnea.
  • Being older. People older than 65 years of age have a higher risk of having central sleep apnea, especially if they also have other risk factors.
  • Heart disorders. People with atrial fibrillation or congestive heart failure are more at risk of central sleep apnea.
  • Stroke or brain tumor. These conditions can impair the brain's ability to regulate breathing.
Jul. 24, 2012