This blog has been medically reviewed by Theresa Vuskovich, DMD.
When the average person thinks of a sleep apnea patient, they may picture someone who is carrying some excess weight. Excess weight increases the risk of developing the most common type of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea. But do people of all sizes get obstructive sleep apnea? It’s true that roughly 60 to 90 percent of people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are overweight. But that still leaves 10 to 40 percent of people with OSA who are not.
Let’s talk about the risk factors and symptoms of OSA, the diagnostic process, and treatment options that can apply to people at any weight. Sleep apnea may not present itself the way you think, so it’s important to be informed and get help quickly if anything seems off.
Risk Factors for OSA
While the most common cause of obstructive sleep apnea is excess weight or obesity, there are other possible causes and risk factors, too. The following factors could affect anyone, no matter their weight:
- A narrow throat
- A round head
- Excess growth due to hormones
- Deviated septum
- Medical conditions that congest upper airways
- Alcohol or drug abuse
If any of these apply to you, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have OSA. So if you’re still wondering, “Do skinny people get sleep apnea?” read on to learn the signs and symptoms someone with OSA might notice.
Symptoms of OSA
OSA can cause a variety of symptoms, and everyone’s experience with the disease is different. You may experience one or more of the following OSA symptoms while sleeping:
- Sleep maintenance insomnia (inability to stay asleep or waking and not returning to sleep)
While you may not be aware you snore or snort while sleeping, your bedmate will certainly be able to tell you. These sleep disturbances can cause more than relationship problems. OSA and its symptoms can significantly impair your quality of life. You may experience the following symptoms during the daytime:
- Excessive sleepiness
- Morning headaches
- Jaw joint pain
- Memory issues
- Decreased libido
Though many of these health issues seem universal among adults, never disregard your symptoms. Talk to your health care providers (HCPs) about your sleeping patterns and any symptoms consistent with OSA. HCPs can help determine whether OSA is a concern and ensure you receive a formal diagnosis.
Let’s say you have an average weight and are noticing that you snore (or your partner is noticing!), you’re excessively sleepy during the day, and you often wake with a dry mouth or sore throat. You probably wouldn’t conclude that you’re suffering from sleep apnea.
But if you do notice symptoms like those listed above, and certainly if you notice that your breathing pauses while you sleep, it’s time to see a medical professional.
“Your doctor may make an evaluation based on your signs and symptoms and a sleep history, which you can provide with help from someone who shares your bed or your household, if possible,” according to Mayo Clinic. “You’re likely to be referred to a sleep disorder center. There, a sleep specialist can help you determine your need for further evaluation.”
Those further evaluations may include overnight monitoring at a sleep center, a nocturnal polysomnography, or a home sleep test. If it appears that you have OSA, you may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat specialist to rule out structural blockages in your nose or throat.
If you are at an average weight and are diagnosed with OSA, there are treatment options for you. Some of these include CPAP machines, oral appliances, nasal decongestants, or even surgery. You can also modify your lifestyle by drinking less alcohol, quitting smoking, and changing your sleeping position. Meet with your doctor and dentist to come up with the best care plan for you.
So, do people of all sizes get sleep apnea? Yes. Risk factors like allergies, a deviated septum, or smoking can contribute to the development of OSA in people of average weight. If you start noticing signs of sleep apnea, like snoring or excessive daytime sleepiness, visit your doctor and see whether getting tested for OSA would be a good option for you.
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