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About Sleep Apnea

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is characterized by pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep. OSA is a chronic condition, which means it does not resolve spontaneously, and is rarely cured.

When people with OSA fall asleep, they can stop breathing for a few seconds to a minute. These interruptions happen throughout the night, at least five times an hour. Afterward, normal breathing starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound.

When breathing pauses or becomes shallow, the OSA sufferer usually moves out of deep sleep into light sleep-or has a brief awakening-which they may not remember. As a result of these disruptions, sleep quality is worsened, causing tiredness during the day. In fact, obstructive sleep apnea is one of the leading causes of daytime sleepiness. Obstructive sleep apnea ranges in severity, and can be mild, moderate, or severe.

 

Symptoms and Signs of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Loud frequent snoring, increased age and obesity with increased neck size are the three best predictors of having OSA. Symptoms may include one or more of the following:

  • Sleepiness during the day
  • Morning headaches
  • Memory, learning, or concentration problems
  • Irritability, depression, mood swings, or personality changes
  • Needing to urinate at night
  • Waking up with a dry throat

Not all people who show these symptoms have OSA. If you experience these symptoms, tell your doctor, who will review your history, and possibly perform non-invasive tests to make a diagnosis. And while there is no cure for obstructive sleep apnea, there is treatment that can help reduce snoring, and help you get better sleep.

What Causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea

People with OSA tend to have a narrower or more collapsible airway than normal, often at the base of the tongue and soft palate. During sleep, the normal relaxation of muscles in the throat can cause the tongue and palate to fall backwards, further closing the already narrowed airway. Obstructive sleep apnea can be caused (or made worse) by:

  • Obesity: Extra fat tissue in the neck can narrow the airway, which makes it harder to keep open
  • Large tongue and tonsils: These can obstruct the airway, making it harder for air to pass through
  • Getting older: For reasons not fully understood, sleep apnea tends to increase with age
  • Head and neck shape: Some people have a naturally small airway opening in the mouth and throat due to the structure of their bones

Health Risks of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Left untreated, Obstructive Sleep Apnea can trigger the release of stress hormones, change how your body uses energy, and, of course, make you feel tired and sleepy during the day. But even if you don't have daytime sleepiness, obstructive sleep apnea still puts you at higher risk for:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack, heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Driving or work-related accidents