Sleep apnea is most often identified not by the person suffering with the disease or even their doctor. It’s usually a family member who realized there is a problem. The person sleeping does not hear his own snores, but his bed partner or family member in the next room does.
Does your dad snore loudly or always fall asleep in inappropriate places?
Alyssa, our Internal Operations Manager, knew for years that her father had a serious sleep disorder. As a child, Alyssa could hear her father snoring from across the house. Finally, after falling asleep at work during a phone call, her father was tested and diagnosed with severe sleep apnea (actually, his co-workers caught him asleep at his desk while on the phone, photographed him and posted the picture as his employee of the month photo).
For the past 10 years he has used a bi-level PAP every night, has lost over 100 pounds and his life has changed for the better (see this great picture of Alyssa and her dad at her wedding in August of last year?).
Men are more likely than women to have sleep apnea. In this post we’ll cover the top risk factors for sleep apnea in men and how to recognize so that you can convince your dad (bed partner, uncle, brother, grandfather) to talk to his doctor and find out about having a sleep study.
Risk factors for sleep apnea in men:
Who else in your family has sleep apnea? Your dad, grandfather, brother, uncle? Studies have shown that sleep apnea is more likely if someone in your family has sleep apnea. Contributing factors may include other medical conditions that run in families, like hypothyroidism, excessive and abnormal growth due to excessive production of growth hormone, allergies and other physical conditions such as a small airway, small airway, deviated septum, large tonsils or large tongue.
Being overweight or obese is one of the most significant risk factors; about half of people with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight. When fat accumulates around the upper airway, it can change the shape of the airway or the extra weight can make it more likely that the throat tissue will collapse during sleep (learn more about how the the airway is obstructed here).
It’s not surprising that studies consistently show that losing weight reduces the severity of sleep apnea. Not only does weight loss reduce the number of apneas that occur, but it also improves the quality of patients’ sleep (learn more about the effects of weight loss on severity of sleep apnea here).
How to tell if Dad has sleep apnea:
Is his neck size over 17 inches?
A neck circumference over 17 inches in men is an independent risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea (for women it’s over 16 inches). This means that if Dad’s neck size is over 17″ he should be tested for sleep apnea Rather than trying to measure his neck, you can take a look at the size on one of his dress shirts.
William Nickerson, shown in the picture, is a commercial driver diagnosed with sleep apnea (learn more about the risks of drowsy driving here). Nickerson’s doctor identified neck size as a risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea.
Does he fall asleep at inappropriate times and places?
Does Dad always fall asleep in front of the TV, at the movies, as a passenger in a car, even at work? This may indicate excessive daytime sleepiness caused by a sleep disorder. The Epworth Sleepiness Scale is a short quiz which assesses your sleepiness by asking how likely the participant is to fall asleep in certain situations, like while stopped at an intersection while driving or in a long meeting at work. You can download the quiz here.
Does Dad snore? Do the walls vibrate at night? Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, but everyone who has sleep apnea snores. Ultimately, the only way to find out is to have an overnight sleep study. An in-center sleep study or a home sleep apnea test (HST) will monitor your breathing, heart rate, and other important measurements to see if you are experiencing apneas (pauses in breathing that cause arousals throughout the night, leaving you exhausted in the morning) . Learn more about the difference between snoring and sleep apnea here.
If you suspect that Dad has a sleep order, talk to him about getting tested. Download our 5 step guide to getting tested:
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