General Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Structural abnormalities in the face, skull, or airways that cause some obstruction or narrowing in the upper airways and reduce air pressure can produce sleep apnea syndrome. People with micrognathia, retrognathia, enlarged tonsils, tongue enlargement, and acromegaly are especially predisposed to obstructive sleep apnea. Abnormalities or weakness in the muscles that surround the airway can also contribute to obstructive sleep apnea.
Problems with the soft palate (the soft tissue at the back of the roof of the mouth) are also associated with many cases of sleep apnea. Obesity can contribute to sleep apnea when fat deposits clog throat tissue.
Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children
Sleep apnea occurs in about 2% of children and can occur even in very young children. The most likely causes include:
- Facial or skull abnormalities in infants.
- Overgrown tonsils, adenoids, or both in small children. (Removal of tonsils or adenoids can free the airways and solve the problem.)
- Neuromuscular disorders that affect the muscles in the airways.
Review Date: 06/11/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.