What Happens When Sleep Apnea Is Left Untreated?

Complications of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is not something that is often talked about, but it continues to affect countless people across the world. It can affect the elderly, adults, children, and even babies. It is not an ailment that picks and chooses who it affects.

It can be unpleasant for those who suffer from it and also difficult to treat. It can make sufferers feel lethargic, groggy, and tired all throughout the day. Not only that, but it can have some serious consequences if it goes untreated!

Luckily, modern medicine and early diagnoses can reverse these consequences, so it is vital to get diagnosed early. If you want to find out what sleep apnea is, how it is diagnosed, what happens if it goes untreated, and how to treat it, keep reading below for more information.

What Is The Cause Of Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where people essentially stop breathing while they are asleep. It is potentially life-threatening and has many side effects.

The inability to breathe while asleep is usually caused by a disturbance or blockage in the airways. Sometimes it is caused when the soft tissue in the throat, including the tongue and tonsils, becomes too relaxed, resulting in the person not breathing properly.

Other times, it can be neurological. The signals that are sent from the brain to the muscles that allow you to breathe can malfunction. This can result in what is known as sleep apnea. 

There are three known types of sleep apnea and each one is treated a little differently. The first is obstructive sleep apnea and it is the most common. The second is central sleep apnea and is not as common. The third is mixed sleep apnea, which is a mixture of both these types and is the hardest to diagnose.

How Is It Diagnosed?

There are two common tests used to diagnose sleep apnea. The first is called nocturnal polysomnography, where the patient will need to spend the night in a clinic. This is where a doctor can monitor the patient’s symptoms up close. This particular test monitors heart rate, breathing patterns, blood oxygen levels, and much more.

The second type of test is known as a home sleep test. This kind of test, as the name suggests, can be done at home. It also monitors breathing patterns, blood oxygen levels, heart rate, and airflow. 

Each kind of sleep apnea has an underlying issue that must be addressed. Depending on your symptoms and the kind of sleep apnea you have, your doctor may want you to get a second diagnosis from a specialist. Some specialists include an ear, nose, and throat doctor, or a cardiologist. 

What Happens If It Goes Untreated?

The milder symptoms of sleep apnea can lead to things like depression and anxiety. This is because most people feel fatigued, unable to concentrate, and unable to focus properly throughout the day. 

This has profound effects on the mood and generally just decreases someone’s quality of life. Sleep apnea makes doing daily tasks, your work, and your home life increasingly more difficult, which results in people feeling stressed and unhappy.

There are serious consequences if sleep apnea goes untreated for too long. While there is no guarantee that all of these ailments might happen to you, it does increase your risk of developing them. There are plenty of studies that have shown how sleep apnea can lead to problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart attack, and even stroke.

Recently, there have been many links between sleep apnea and obesity. The added weight on the neck and the soft tissues can lead to someone developing sleep apnea. If you are overweight and experiencing sleep apnea, even losing 10% of your body fat can ease your symptoms. 

Not all people who suffer from sleep apnea are obese, but it is a common cause. Women who are going through menopause should be extra careful to maintain their weight, as they seem to be at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea as well.

What Treatments Are Available?

There are many different courses of treatment available to those out there who suffer from this sleep disorder. Depending on your symptoms and how severe your sleep apnea is, your doctor may recommend any of the treatments below.

The most common treatment that your doctor might prescribe is a breathing machine. These kinds of machines have a mask that patients can attach to their faces while they sleep. It pushes air into the mouth and lungs continuously. It is also adjustable depending on how much air a particular patient might need. 

If sleeping with a mask on does not sound appealing to you, there are a few home remedies you can try out. The first would be a body pillow which will make sure that you sleep through the night on your side. This is said to ease breathing while sleeping.

A room with a colder temperature is also recommended for a good night’s sleep. A humidifier can also make sure that the air in your room isn’t too dry. You can add essential oils, such as peppermint or eucalyptus, to open up your airways. Acupuncture has been used to open the flow of energy throughout the body too.


While sleep apnea is not a widely-known disorder, there are many long term effects of untreated sleep apnea that are dangerous to your health. That is why it is crucial to get diagnosed as early as possible. 

Most people avoid going to the doctor because they feel that the symptoms are mild and not that impairing. This is a huge mistake, as you now know! Untreated sleep apnea can lead to serious health problems. 

Not only can it impair your everyday life because of fatigue, but it can also lead to type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart palpitations, and heart attacks!

If you think that you may be suffering from sleep apnea, make sure to make an appointment with a medical professional as soon as possible to start treatment right away.



Dan was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2017 when he was only 32 years old. He has been using a BIPAP machine for his treatment. He hopes to provide a patient's perspective on the sleep apnea experience. Dan lives in Tampa with his girlfriend and 2 dogs.

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