If Your Teen Plays This Sport They May Be at a Higher Risk of OSA


Parents of kids that play soccer and football know to be wary of concussions and other severe sports-related injuries, but now the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) is encouraging parents to be on the lookout for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) symptoms if their teen plays football.


Teen and young adult male football players may be more at risk for this dangerous sleep disorder especially if they are classified as overweight or obese (even if they're physically fit), and if they have larger necks. If your child is a lineman, they might be even more likely to have OSA if they aren't at a healthy weight. One study in Clinical Pediatrics found that while most skill players on a high school football team were at a healthy weight, only 8 percent of linemen were. And 21 percent of linemen in that study were morbidly obese. In general, OSA prevalence is 45 percent in obese subjects in studies, likely because higher fat deposits around the upper airway lead to increased collapsibility of the upper airway, impacting breathing during sleep.


“Even at a young age, ignoring the symptoms of sleep apnea leads to dangerous consequences – as I've seen firsthand for fellow players and friends who have struggled with this condition," said Aaron Taylor, former offensive guard for the Green Bay Packers and current college football analyst, in an AASM press release. “I want current and future athletes to understand the serious risks of this disease and know this isn't something you have to live with. I've experienced how sleep apnea treatment can dramatically change your life."

OSA Symptoms to Watch For


Sure, your football player may have received a clean bill of health from their physician before stepping foot on the practice turf, but there are some symptoms their doctor may not have been looking for. You're more likely to notice these OSA indicators at home. Symptoms parents should be on the lookout for include snoring, obesity, choking or gasping during sleep, fatigue or daytime sleepiness. 


While a little snoring from your sleepy teen seems innocent enough, the long-term risks of untreated sleep apnea could result in a host of long-term health issues, like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. 


Teens and adults who suffer from OSA may also experience depression, irritability and trouble concentrating. Yes, these may seem like symptoms that are part of their normal teenage years, but if mood changes are coupled with sleep issues, you should make an appointment with your football player's pediatrician and inquire about seeing a sleep specialist.


A physician might recommend lifestyle modifications—like changes in diet—in conjunction with CPAP treatment to treat OSA.


“It's critical to diagnose and treat sleep apnea in young athletes as early as possible," said M. Safwan Badr, MD, past-president of the AASM in the press release. “Sleep apnea is a significant, independent risk factor for high blood pressure and heart disease, and blood pressure elevation during young adulthood increases the risk of cardiovascular mortality later in life."

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