Causes of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea usually occurs when the throat muscles and tongue relax during sleep and partially or completely block the airway . When you stop breathing or have reduced flow of air into your lungs during sleep, the amount of oxygen in your blood decreases briefly.

Obstructive sleep apnea can also occur if you have bone deformities or enlarged tissues in your nose, mouth, or throat. For example, you may have enlarged tonsils . During the day when you are awake and standing up, this may not cause problems. But when you lie down at night, the tonsils can press down on your airway, narrowing it and causing sleep apnea.

In children, the main cause of sleep apnea is large tonsils or adenoids.

Other causes

Other things that may contribute to sleep apnea include:

  • Drinking alcohol, which affects the part of the brain that controls breathing. This may relax the breathing muscles and cause a narrowing of the airway and sleep apnea.
  • Obesity. Fat in the neck area can press down on the tissues around the airways. This narrows the airways and can cause sleep apnea.
  • Some medicines that are taken for conditions such as allergies, long-term pain, insomnia, or anxiety. These medicines, such as narcotics, can also relax the muscles and tissues in the throat, causing it to narrow.

This information is produced and provided by the National CancerInstitute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the NationalCancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 14, 2014

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