Does Growing Old Cause Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition that interrupts your breathing when you sleep – sometimes causing you to stop breathing anywhere from 10 seconds up to several minutes. The most common type of sleep apnea is known as “obstructive sleep apnea” or OSA for short. OSA happens when your airway become blocked when you are sleeping. A common symptom is snoring. Sleep apnea is dangerous because it is known to cause high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, weight gain and other health problems. But for drivers it may be worse — sleep apnea can cause drowsiness when driving and has been linked to road accidents.

Yes, the prevalence of sleep apnea increases with age. A possible reason is that the elderly has more fatty deposits around the head and neck that may result in changes in body structure around the pharynx. However, studies also show that OSA is more often mis- or under-diagnosed in the elderly because of atypical symptoms and lack of awareness or criteria for assessing OSA in elderly patients. How do you know if you have OSA? Here are some of the common symptoms according to Mayo Clinic:

  • Snoring loud enough to disturb your sleep or that of others
  • Waking up gasping or choking
  • Intermittent pauses in your breathing during sleep
  • Excessive daytime drowsiness, which may cause you to fall asleep while you’re working, watching television or even driving a vehicle

If you experience any of the above, you should first see your GP who may refer you to a sleep clinic. There are about 10 public and private hospitals in Singapore that offer sleep clinic services – visit the Singapore Sleep Society Website for more details on where to go. OSA can be diagnosed through observation of you sleeping at the sleep clinic. Some clinics also offer a device that you can take home which will record your sleep pattern and provide data that the doctor can download for further diagnosis.

What do you have to lose except a bad night’s sleep!

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