Obstructive sleep apnea is an extreme form of snoring in which your upper airway closes while you are asleep, causing an obstruction that prevents you from breathing for a brief period.
- The soft tissues of the throat, your soft palate, and the tongue collapse onto the back wall of the upper airway, forming a blockage that prevents air from entering your lungs.
- The negative pressure of inhaling pulls harder on your soft tissues, sealing the airway even more tightly.
- To breathe and get air to your lungs, you must awaken or arouse slightly and create tension in your muscles-including the tongue and throat-and open the airway.
- This process causes a distinctive snorting, startling, and awaking pattern.
- If you have sleep apnea, you begin snoring, then stop breathing for at least 10 seconds (apnea). The apnea temporarily quiets the snoring, after which you awaken with a large snort. This pattern occurs in 95% of people with obstructive sleep apnea.
- Each cycle of blockage (apnea) and awakening can last from 20 seconds to 3 minutes, repeating many times throughout the night. Five episodes per hour per night are common. More than 15 episodes per hour per night are the criteria used to diagnosis the condition referred to as sleep apnea.
- Some snorers can have anywhere from 100-600 episodes or cycles of sleeping and waking per night.
- Although people with sleep apnea may be completely unaware of this repeating sleep-snore-apnea-wake pattern, it is very disruptive to normal sleep patterns. Usually, it is the bed partner who is most aware of the condition. Relationships, along with school and job performance, often suffer because of persistent daytime sleepiness that develops as a result of continuously disrupted sleep.
- Characteristics of obstructive sleep apnea
- Movement in the bed when you wake and change position to breathe more easily
- Excessive daytime sleepiness with napping that often does not fully rest you
- Mood changes such as anxiety and irritability
- Decreased sexual drive and depression
- The repeated cycles of snoring, apnea, and waking that characterize OSA can lead to adverse physical changes and complications such as these:
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/1/2016
G Richard Braen, MD, FACEP
Steven C Gabaeff, MD, FAAEM
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
Thomas Rebbecchi, MD, FAAEM
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