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The Link Between Smoking and Sleep Apnea

The Link Between Smoking and Sleep Apnea

There are lots of reasons to quit smoking, and if you’re a smoker, you probably know how quitting will benefit your heart and lungs. But what you might not know is that quitting smoking could also benefit your sleep — specifically, it could alleviate or even eliminate the symptoms of sleep apnea.

Roughly 20% of Americans suffer from sleep apnea, a serious health disorder that causes you to stop breathing multiple times while you sleep. Because these interruptions can be very brief — often just a few seconds — you may not even know they’re occurring. But even though the symptoms may be subtle, the potential health effects of sleep apnea are very serious.

At ENT Specialists, our team helps patients in Salt Lake City, Murray, Draper, Tooele, and West Jordan, Utah, relieve the symptoms of sleep apnea and prevent its complications. If you smoke, quitting is one of the best things you can do to reduce apnea’s health risks on your own. Here’s why.

The basics of sleep apnea

There are three main types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea, and complex (or mixed) sleep apnea. 

OSA is by far the most common type, occurring when the tissues at the back of your throat relax and descend into your airway, temporarily blocking normal airflow. Central apnea involves a problem with the neuromuscular responses responsible for breathing during sleep. Complex apnea is actually a combination of the other two types.

If you have apnea, your sleep can be interrupted dozens of times a night, and you might not even know it. Those interruptions repeatedly interfere with oxygen flow, increasing the risks of:

It can also increase your risks of obesity and diabetes. It’s important to note that while snoring is a common symptom of apnea, the two don’t always go together: Even if you don’t snore, you could still have sleep apnea.

Apnea tends to occur more often in males, in people who are overweight, and in people with large necks and narrow airways. Like many chronic medical problems, the risk of apnea increases with age — and it also tends to be more common among smokers.

How smoking and apnea are related

Researchers aren’t sure why smoking increases the risk of sleep apnea, but they do have some hypotheses. Many researchers think it’s because smoking causes tissue inflammation in your airways, including inflammation of your throat and soft palate. These are the same tissues that wind up blocking your airway during episodes of sleep apnea.

There is also some evidence that the nicotine in cigarettes may interfere with normal muscle reflexes in your airway, allowing airway tissue to constrict or descend into your throat while you sleep. Smoking also impairs the arousal response, a natural instinct to rouse if breathing is impaired.

Studies also show that smoking can worsen the severity of apnea, along with its symptoms. People who smoke and have apnea are more likely to have daytime drowsiness, significant fatigue, and other apnea-related issues.

Treating sleep apnea

Our team offers an array of treatment options for patients with sleep apnea, beginning with lifestyle changes. Quitting smoking tops the list, along with:

We also offer CPAP therapy and surgical treatments to remove or shrink excess tissue, improve airway muscle tone, or treat other potential causes, like a deviated septum. We also offer the state-of-the-art Inspire® system, a tiny, implanted device that stimulates your airway muscles while you sleep. Inspire can be an especially good choice for patients who haven’t had success with CPAP therapy.

If you have sleep apnea, the most important thing you can do is seek medical treatment right away. Without treatment, you’re at increased risks of heart disease, stroke, and other complications associated with sleep apnea. To learn more about sleep apnea treatments at ENT Specialists, book an appointment online or over the phone today.

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