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Obstructive Sleep Apnea

sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition in which breathing stops against your will for brief periods of time during sleep. As a rule, air flows smoothly from the mouth and nose into the lungs at all times, but the periods when breathing stops are called apnea or apneic episodes.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common form of sleep apnea, that is estimated to affect approximately 4% of men and 2% of women. However, it is believed that only about 10% of sufferers seek treatment leaving the majority of sufferers undiagnosed.

In Obstructive sleep apnea, OSA, the normal flow of air is repeatedly stopped throughout the night. This stoppage of the flow of air happens because airway space in the area of the throat is too narrow.

Snoring, which is caused by airflow squeezing through the narrowed airway space, is characteristic of obstructive sleep apnea.

Untreated sleep apnea can result in serious health problems such as hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.


Obstructive sleep apnea, OSA is caused by partial or entire blockage of the airways during sleep. During sleep, a person’s throat muscles usually relax, allowing the tongue and/or fatty tissues of the throat to fall back into the airways, resulting in blockage of airflow.

During an apnea event air is constrained from moving beyond the obstruction, resulting in the reduction of blood flow to the brain. This thus signals the brain to partially rouse from sleep to signal the body that it needs to breathe, and is often followed by a loud snorting, gasping, or choking, sounds as the person try to take a deep enough breath to fight past the obstruction. Once the gulp of air is taken the brain returns to sleep, and the process begins once again.

This process can occur just a few times a night or hundreds of times a night depending on the severity of the Obstructive sleep apnea.

Other symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Snoring
  • Frequent breaks in breathing
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Morning Headaches
  • Restless sleep.
  • Depression or irritability, as a result of a lack of regular quality sleep.

Types Of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

  • Mild obstructive sleep apnea, where the sufferer experiences 5-14 episodes of interruptions in breathing in an hour.
  • Moderate obstructive sleep apnea, where the sufferer experiences 15-30 episodes of interruptions in breathing in an hour.
  • Severe obstructive sleep apnea, where the sufferer experiences 30 or more interruptions in breathing in an hour.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea In Children

Causes of obstructive sleep apnea in children often include enlarged tonsils or adenoids and dental conditions such as a large overbite.

Less common causes include a tumor or growth in the airway and defects such as Down syndrome and Pierre-Robin syndrome. Down syndrome causes enlarged tongue, adenoids, and tonsils and there is decreased muscle tone in the upper airway.

In Pierre-Robin syndrome, the small lower jaw and the tongue tend to ball up and fall to the back of the throat.

Lastly, childhood obesity may cause obstructive sleep apnea and is much less commonly associated with the condition than adult obesity

For more on sleep apnea, including treatment options, click here.


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