Is Sleep Apnea Genetic?

Team Sleep Apnea

Does sleep apnea run in your family?

Researchers have found that sleep apnea does tend to run in families, caused by genetic factors passed down from generation to generation.

Like most other medical problems, sleep apnea affects each family differently.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) tends to run in families. OSA occurs when the muscles relax during sleep and your airway narrows or closes as you breathe in.

This can reduce the oxygen in your blood and cause your brain to wake you from sleep so you can reopen your airway. The resulting sleep fragmentation is associated with excessive daytime sleepiness, poor quality of life, problems with memory and concentration, depression, irritability, and personality changes.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

If you have a family history of OSA, it’s important to be aware of the signs so you can seek prompt treatment if necessary. Symptoms include loud snoring and choking or gasping for breath during sleep.

Other symptoms include falling asleep at inappropriate times during the day, frequently waking during the night, morning headaches, dry mouth upon awakening, irritability, and difficulty concentrating or remembering.

The Two Types of Sleep Apnea

There are two types of sleep apnea: central and obstructive.

  • Central sleep apnea occurs because the brain is not sending signals to the body to breathe.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea occurs because the body can’t move air in and out of the lungs properly. This can happen when the tongue and throat muscles relax too much during sleep.

Understanding the Relationship Between Genetics and Sleep Apnea

Both types of sleep apnea can be caused by genetics and passed down through family generations. If you have a family member with either type of sleep apnea, you’re at a higher risk of developing it. The likelihood increases if both of your parents have it.

Certain anatomical features are known to increase the risk for sleep apnea. These include:

  • A narrow jaw or throat
  • A small chin
  • Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
  • A large tongue

A link has been demonstrated between other genetic medical conditions and sleep apnea. For example, enlarged tonsils and adenoids are more likely to occur if there’s a family history of these conditions. Similarly, nasal polyps and deviated nasal septums are more prevalent among those who have relatives with these medical problems.

People who suffer from allergies may also be more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea because congestion from allergies can cause the airway to become blocked, triggering obstructive sleep apnea.

Treating Sleep Apnea When You Have a Family History

The most common treatments for sleep apnea are:

Dental devices. People with sleep apnea might benefit from wearing an oral device that holds the jaw slightly forward during sleep, opening the upper airway. Oral devices might also be an option for people who can’t tolerate CPAP therapy or those who want to try both types of treatment simultaneously.

Ask your dentist about the dental device they’d recommend for your specific case.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This machine delivers a constant airflow through a mask worn during sleep. The mild air pressure keeps your upper airway passages open, preventing apnea and snoring.

Surgery. Surgical procedures can help treat obstructive sleep apnea by enlarging the space in your throat where your breathing passages are located.

If you suffer from sleep apnea and have a family history of the disease, inform your adult children so they can watch for any signs in themselves. Sleep apnea can also affect younger children. Encourage a healthy lifestyle and keep an eye on them for any symptoms. 

Learn More About Sleep Apnea Treatment

A good night’s rest is essential to your overall mental and physical health. While there are genetic components to sleep apnea, effective treatments are available.If you’d like to schedule an appointment for a consultation with Dr. Coats, contact us today at 817-481-6888.