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Sleep Apnea (OSA)

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea  (OSA?)

Snoring may be a sign of a more serious condition known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).  OSA is characterized by multiple episodes of breathing pauses greater than 10 seconds at a time, due to upper airway narrowing or collapse. This results in lower amounts of oxygen in the blood, which causes the heart to work harder. It also causes disruption of the natural sleep cycle, which makes people feel poorly rested despite adequate time in bed. Apnea patients may experience 30 to 300 such events per night.


OSA Overview:sleepapnea1

  • (Pronounced “Ap-knee-ah”)
  • Snoring is due to partial airway obstruction
  • OSA is due to intermittent complete airway obstruction
  • Some patients’ throats collapse repeatedly during sleep causing intermittent suffocation
  • Breath-holding can last between 10 seconds (mild) – 60 seconds (severe)
  • Episodes can occur 10 – 60 times an hour
  • Arterial oxygen level can drop  causing Oxygen desaturation”, “hypoxia”
  • Severe OSA is dangerous

Possible Effects of OSA:

The immediate effect of sleep apnea is that the snorer must sleep lightly and keep the throat muscles tense in order to keep airflow to the lungs.   OSA Arousal from sleep can cause:

  • Restlessness, mood swings, depression
  • Bed-wetting
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Daytime tiredness: impairing job performance, impairing driving or operating equipment
  • Morning headaches
  • Memory problems
  • Impotence
  • Untreated OSA Increases risk of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and many other medical problems.


How are people who snore  heavily evaluated?

An otolaryngologist will provide a thorough examination of the nose, mouth, throat, palate, and neck, often using a fiberoptic scope. An examination can reveal if the snoring is caused by nasal allergy, infection, nasal obstruction, or enlargement of tonsils and adenoids.  A sleep study in a laboratory or at home may be necessary to determine if snoring is due to OSA.   All snorers with any of the following symptoms should be evaluated for possible obstructive sleep apnea:

  • • Witnessed episodes of breath pauses or apnea during sleep
  • • Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
  • • High blood pressure
  • • Heart disease
  • • History of a stroke