There are many factors that can put you at risk for sleep apnea, and a larger neck size is one of them. You could be at risk for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) if you are a man with a neck size of 17 inches or more or a woman with a neck size of 16 inches or more.
OSA, the most common type of sleep apnea, occurs when your throat relaxes while you sleep and your airway becomes partially or fully blocked. When this happens, you might snore or stop breathing for a few seconds or longer until your brain sends your body a wake-up signal to start breathing again.
There are a couple of reasons for the correlation between neck size and sleep apnea. People with a thicker neck may have a narrower airway, which makes it more difficult for air to pass through their throat and to the lungs. Instead of having a clear path, the air has to squeeze through, which is heard as snoring or wheezing. If the airway is completely blocked, silence follows during an obstructive (or central) event, followed by a strong gasping for air.
Those who have a larger neck size may also have excess fat deposits near the upper airway that can obstruct breathing. Having excess weight around your neck can also narrow your airway when you lie down, also causing snoring.
Keep in mind, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea and even those who are fit can suffer from sleep apnea. However, if a loved one has told you that you snore or stop breathing during sleep, you should discuss this with your doctor right away. Your physician can measure your neck circumference and use the information in combination with your height and weight to determine if you might be having breathing issues during sleep.
If your doctor thinks you might have sleep apnea, they’ll recommend a sleep test. This test can take place in a sleep lab or even in your home.
This blog post contains general information about medical conditions and potential treatments. It is not medical advice. If you have any medical questions, please consult your doctor.