Putting on weight can trigger sleep apnea 

Q: I’ve put on some weight lately and developed sleep apnea. It’s freaking me and my wife out. What I should do about it? — Felix P., Asbury Park, N.J.

A: You’re right to be concerned, but there’s good news. Early intervention is effective and can help you dodge health hazards that obstructive sleep apnea can cause. But first let’s look at what exactly it is.

OSA is characterized by repeated pauses in breathing for seconds or minutes, when your throat muscles and/or tongue block your windpipe. This can cause low blood oxygen levels, increase your risk for heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as all the health problems that go along with disturbed sleep. It’s long been associated with smoking, excessive alcohol intake, obesity and people who already have Type 2 diabetes.

Now we know that it can be triggered by even a little weight gain, and one of the first places you gain or lose fat (weight) are in your neck and throat. We suggest that you work with your doctor or a nutritionist ASAP to lose 5 percent of your body weight — that’s been shown to help relieve OSA in more than 30 percent of people, and actually cure others. You also should adjust your sleep position: Elevating your head or getting a firmer pillow can help sometimes, as can sleeping on your side instead of your back.

You may be a candidate for an oral appliance, fitted by a dentist experienced in treating sleep apnea. It’s a mouthguard that repositions the lower jaw, tongue and uvula (that little flap hanging down from the back of your throat). Daily singing for 20 minutes also helps, by strengthening your throat muscles.

If you end up with a severe case, the standard treatment is continuous positive airway pressure: It delivers a steady stream of air pressure to keep your airway open all night. So call your doc, get started on figuring out how to lose that 5 percent pronto. Then ... sweet dreams for you and your wife!

Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Michael Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.sharecare.com.

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