How Dangerous is Sleep Apnea: Can it Lead to Death?

Many of us are aware of how difficult it is to get a good night’s sleep. But how many of us consider that potential health and even life-threatening dangers may be present in our sleep? Sleep apnea has become increasingly common and can cause severe issues for those suffering from it.

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that causes pauses in breathing throughout the night due to blockage in the airways. It affects an estimated 22 million Americans, but many people go undiagnosed due to its subtler symptoms, such as fatigue and excessive snoring. In some cases, however, sleep apnea can be dangerous and uncomfortable.

It’s important to understand the risks associated with a potentially serious condition like sleep apnea and whether or not it could potentially lead to death in some cases. In this article, we will discuss sleep apnea and its potential complications and answer an important question: can sleep apnea lead to death?

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that causes brief interruptions in breathing while asleep. It happens because the airways are partially or completely obstructed due to physical obstacles such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids or by something neurological like muscular relaxation before exhaling.

This results in interrupted breathing and pauses between breaths lasting 10 seconds or more numerous times throughout the night. It’s been estimated that around 22 million people suffer from some form of sleep apnea in the United States alone.

Types of Sleep Apnea

The two most common types of sleep apnea are:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): The most common type of sleep apnea where the obstruction occurs in the throat area due to gravity and poor muscle tone during sleep.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): A much less common form where the obstruction occurs inside your brain when your body’s control center for breathing becomes unaware of signals from your muscles to breathe or momentarily stops sending them altogether.

Causes of Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea can cause episodes of pauses in breathing and shallow breaths, resulting in fragmented sleep throughout the night. Sleep apnea affects millions of people worldwide, so it’s important to understand some of its most common causes.


People who are overweight have an increased risk for sleep apnea because excess body fat can increase pressure on the windpipe, leading to partially blocked airflow. Losing weight may help to reduce or eliminate episodes of apnea.


Cigarette smoking increases inflammation and fluid retention around the airways and reduces lung function, contributing to sleep apnea. The effects of smoking can take months to go away completely and quitting tobacco should be considered when looking for ways to reduce your symptoms.

Neck Circumference

People with larger necks tend to have more soft tissue behind their throats that could obstruct their airways during sleep. This is especially true for men, who typically have larger neck circumferences than women and are more susceptible to developing sleep apnea.

Family History

Interestingly enough, if you have a family member with sleep apnea, there’s a greater chance you will develop it down the line due to genetic factors involved in this condition. So having a family member with this condition should not be taken lightly and utilizing preventative measures is key if you want to reduce these risks.

Alcohol Consumption

Consuming alcohol is known to relax muscle tone throughout the body including those responsible for keeping your airway open while sleeping. When this happens, these muscles collapse like leaflets on a door closing off access points, and leading to temporary pauses in breathing events commonly associated with sleep apnea (apneas).

Anatomy or Narrow Airway

An abnormally shaped jaw size or smaller-than-average upper airway could result in prolonged pauses in breathing during sleeping hours due to moderately narrowed passageways that airflow must travel through before reaching our lungs. This issue typically requires an intervention such as surgery in some cases but lifestyle changes may also alleviate symptoms heavily depending on each unique case’s circumstances.

Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Symptoms vary depending on whether you’re dealing with obstructive or central sleep apnea, but they may include the following:

  • Daytime fatigue;
  • Snoring;
  • Episodes where breathing stops;
  • Difficulty concentrating;
  • Headaches in the morning;
  • Insomnia;
  • Memory problems;
  • Dry mouth upon waking up;
  • Feeling irritable when waking up;
  • Restless sleep;
  • Depression and anxiety;
  • Morning dizziness;
  • Frequent urination during the night and more often than usual during the day.


Sleep apnea can lead to a variety of health complications, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and even death. The risk of death is highest in those with severe sleep apnea who are not receiving treatment. In fact, studies have shown that people with untreated sleep apnea are three times more likely to die prematurely than those without the condition.

It’s important to understand the risks associated with sleep apnea and seek medical attention if you suspect you may have it. Treatment for sleep apnea can help reduce the risk of serious health complications and even death.


It’s important to get a diagnosis and start treatment if needed. Treatment for sleep apnea can reduce its symptoms and keep your body’s oxygen levels at healthy levels. There are some available treatments for sleep apnea:

Behavioral Treatments

Behavioral treatments are the first line of defense for mild to moderate cases of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). These treatments work by helping you change behaviors that worsen apnea such as eating late at night or using alcohol or sedatives immediately before bedtime. Behavioral treatments can also include lifestyle changes such as changing your sleeping position and trying out relaxation techniques prior to bedtime.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

CPAP is one of the most common treatments for OSA. This device pumps air through a mask placed over your face while you sleep, which helps keep your airways open during the night. CPAP is often effective in reducing or eliminating daytime drowsiness, headaches, lack of energy, depression, irritability, and dry mouth. You should be able to find CPAP in drug stores near you or online vendors if needed.

Oral Appliances

Oral appliances can adjust the position of your tongue or lower jaw during sleep so that the airway stays open. Oral appliances are generally worn only during sleep. Still, they may need to be adjusted from time to time by trained professionals like dentists or orthodontists who specialize in treating obstructive sleep apnea.


Surgery is an option for those with severe sleep apnea who have not responded to other treatments. Surgery can involve removing the excess tissue from the throat or jaw or implanting a device to keep the airway open during sleep. Surgery is usually only recommended in cases where other treatments have failed and should be discussed with your doctor before undergoing any procedure.


Sleep apnea is a serious condition that can lead to various health complications, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and even death. It’s important to understand the risks associated with sleep apnea and seek medical attention if you suspect you may have it.

Treatment for sleep apnea can help reduce the risk of serious health complications and even death. Several treatments for sleep apnea are available, including behavioral treatments, CPAP, oral appliances, and surgery.

With the right treatment and lifestyle changes, those with sleep apnea can reduce their risk of serious health complications and even death.

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