Is Sleep Apnea Hereditary?

So your father just got diagnosed with sleep apnea, a sleep disorder. Turns out, your uncle, two cousins, and grandfather on your dad’s side all have sleep apnea as well. With so many in your family tree struggling with sleep apnea, you’re starting to wonder… Should you be worried? 

What Does Hereditary Mean? 

According to most dictionaries, the word hereditary means, in medical terms, “genetically transmitted or transmittable from parent to offspring.” Essentially, there are certain traits in your family’s genetics that can be handed down to you from your parents. There are many different things that can be hereditary, such as some diseases, the shape of your face, or if you have freckles or not.

With that in mind, could your parents hand down sleep apnea to you through genetics? The answer is maybe. There’s a lot of factors that determine if sleep apnea is transmittable from your parents to you. It depends not only on genetics, but also physiology, your lifestyle, and your environment. This article will discuss these factors thoroughly to help you determine if you should worry about sleep apnea present in your family tree. 

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The Factors of Transmittable Sleep Apnea

1. Genetics

Genetics play a large role in determining if things are hereditary in your family tree. They can point to certain traits running in your family. For example, if both your mother and grandmother had breast cancer at some point in their life, you are at a higher risk of having breast cancer as well. This means you are predisposed, or you’re more susceptible to, breast cancer. Genetics can cause you to be predisposed to a number of traits or health conditions. 

In regards to sleep apnea, other inherited characteristics from relatives can influence whether or not you develop the disorder. Some of the characteristics are:

  • Breathing problems (allergies, asthma, chronic bronchitis or pneumonia, or other respiratory disorders that originate in the brain) 
  • “Loose” or “floppy” upper airway tissues
  • A family history of obesity 
  • Ethnic predisposition (the National Sleep Foundation suggests that certain ethnicities, such as African, Pacific Islander, or Hispanic heritage, are more likely to develop sleep apnea)

As you can see, genetics can hold significant control over whether or not you develop certain disorders, but there are other factors to consider. For instance, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), is a form of sleep apnea that is caused by upper airway dysfunction during sleep. When looking at mechanical dysfunctions of the body, physiology has an effect here. 

2. Physiology 

When considering sleep apnea and if it is hereditary, physiology tends to affect this more. Physical characteristics that you inherit from your family are more likely to determine if you develop sleep apnea or not. This can include: 

  • A small jawline
  • A receding chin
  • A large overbite
  • Narrow sinus or nasal passageways
  • Excessive amounts of tissue or fat pads around and in the neck
  • An oversized tongue, uvula, or tonsils
  • Narrow nostrils
  • Rounder head shape
  • High and narrow arch in the palate (roof of the mouth)

These traits will definitely put you at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea. If these characteristics run in your family, meeting with a certified sleep specialist at Advanced Sleep Centers of Virginia would be beneficial for you. We can help you determine if you are at risk for or have sleep apnea and help you develop a treatment plan to help you maintain a good night’s sleep.

3. Lifestyle 

Aside from physiology and genetics, there are additional factors that can play a role in your developing of sleep apnea. These factors could be easier to control. The first one is your lifestyle. Research shows that there is a link between obesity and the risk of developing sleep apnea. While some research has shown that there is even a shared genetic component between obesity and sleep apnea, predisposition to these conditions are greatly affected by your lifestyle. 

If you are not carrying out a healthy lifestyle, you’re at a higher risk of developing obesity and sleep apnea. Eating a high-calorie diet and not exercising regularly can affect this. Practicing good health by eating more nutritious foods at a calorie deficit and developing an exercise routine can help reduce your risk of developing sleep apnea or obesity. It also will prevent you from developing other serious chronic illnesses and maintaining a stronger immune system.

4. Environment 

Finally, your environment can also affect your risk of developing sleep apnea. This may seem far-fetched, but research proves it true. One particular study shows that particulate matter, temperature, and humidity can cause the develop₁ment of sleep apnea or increased severity of the condition. 

Particulate matter, also known as particle pollution or PM, are microscopic solid or liquid matter suspended in the atmosphere. In other words, particulate matter is air pollution. According to this study, exposure to urban outdoor and indoor pollutants is linked to higher incidence and severity of the obstructive sleep apnea. 

The study states, referencing previously conducted studies, “particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 10 μm (PM₁₀) comprise coarse particles, which primarily deposit in the upper airways. They can cause irritation or breathing problems.11 Thus, PM10 may play an essential role to OSA through direct mechanical and inflammatory effects on the upper respiratory system.” Essentially, if you live in an area with more intense air pollution, this could cause you to be at risk of developing sleep apnea and other breathing issues. 

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Humidity and temperature are environmental factors, as well. The drying of the upper airway mucus during sleep could definitely increase the severity of obstructive sleep apnea. Thus, higher humidity could lessen the incidence and severity of the condition. A higher temperature, though, shows a relation in increased severity of obstructive sleep apnea, due to a reduction in upper airway muscle activity in warmer temperatures. Therefore, theoretically, a bedroom kept at a cooler temperature with increased humidity (i.e. having a humidifier by the bed) is best for relieving sleep apnea symptoms. 

It’s also important to note that the seasons affect PM₁₀ concentrations and humidity levels. The dry season shows a significantly greater concentration of PM₁₀ in comparison to the wet season, with a lower humidity level than in the wet season. Due to these statistics, living in an area with a longer or more intense dry season could increase your risk of developing sleep apnea. 

The Bottom Line 

While there are many factors in your risk of developing sleep apnea, worrying too much if it runs in your family is unnecessary. Just because sleep apnea is common in your family does not guarantee you will develop it as well!

It’s important to keep all the factors of developing this condition in mind. If you have some physiological traits that increase the risk of sleep apnea, or you live in an area that could induce breathing problems while sleeping, it would be helpful to visit a sleep specialist. 

If you are concerned you’re at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea or are experiencing symptoms of the condition, don’t stress! At Advanced Sleep Centers of Virginia, we have a highly trained team of certified sleep specialists ready to help you. Our team makes diagnosing and treating sleep apnea and other sleep-related issues easy. We offer at-home sleep tests, online scheduling, and a secure telemedicine portal where you can communicate with sleep professionals privately and quickly to make treatment as convenient as possible for you. Advanced Sleep Centers of Virginia is here to ease your mind and help you maintain a good night’s sleep and a healthy lifestyle, free of sleep troubles!

Concerned about sleep apnea? Does it run in your family or do you reside in an area with high air pollution? Are you experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea? Not to fear! Advances Sleep Centers of Virginia is here to address your concerns and ensure your good night’s rest. Schedule an appointment online or call us today at (703) 689-2480.

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