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Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea


Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a common and potentially serious sleep disorder that affects the way you breathe during sleep. It is characterized by repeated episodes of complete or partial blockage of the upper airway, leading to disrupted breathing, and decreased oxygen levels in the blood. This occurs when the throat muscles relax and block the airway.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start during sleep. People with sleep apnea experience pauses in breathing that can last for 10 seconds or longer. These pauses can occur dozens of times per night, disrupting sleep and preventing the body from getting enough oxygen.

Sleep apnea can also lead to serious health problems, such as:

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart disease

  • Stroke

  • Diabetes

  • Obesity

Risk Factors

People who are prone to sleep apnea include:

  • People with excess weight or obesity. Obesity is the strongest risk factor for sleep apnea.

  • Men. Men are more likely to develop sleep apnea than women, especially before age 50.

  • Older adults. The risk of sleep apnea increases with age.

  • People with a family history of sleep apnea. If you have a parent or sibling with sleep apnea, you are more likely to develop it yourself.

  • People with certain medical conditions. Certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, can increase your risk of sleep apnea.

  • People who smoke or drink alcohol excessively. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can relax the muscles in the throat, making it more likely that the airway will collapse during sleep.

  • People who have a narrow airway. People with a narrow airway are more likely to develop sleep apnea.

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Many individuals with OSA are unaware of their symptoms, and it is often a bed partner who notices the loud snoring and pauses in breathing. Common symptoms of OSA include:


  • loud snoring

  • choking or gasping for air during sleep

  • awakening in the morning with a dry mouth or sore throat

  • excessive daytime sleepiness

  • morning headaches

  • difficulty concentrating

  • irritability

  • impaired memory

  • decreased libido


OSA can have serious health implications if left untreated. It can lead to or exacerbate conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and mood disorders. Additionally, frequent disruptions in sleep can result in poor daytime functioning, including impaired cognitive performance and increased accident risk.

Management & Treatment

CPAP continuous positive airway pressure mask installed on a dummy patient for demonstrative purposes.

Pöllö, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you have OSA, it is important to get treatment. Treatment can help to improve your sleep quality, reduce your risk of health problems, and improve your overall quality of life.

Here are some tips for managing OSA:

  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese.

  • Quit smoking.

  • Avoid alcohol and sedatives before bed.

  • Get regular exercise, but avoid exercising too close to bedtime.

  • Sleep on your side or stomach.

  • Use a humidifier in your bedroom.

  • Get treatment for any underlying medical conditions, such as allergies or nasal congestion.

There are a number of treatments for OSA, including:

  • Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and quitting smoking

  • Oral appliances, which can help to keep the airway open during sleep

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which uses a machine to deliver pressurized air through a mask to keep the airway open during sleep

  • Surgery, which can be used to widen the airway

The best treatment for OSA will depend on the severity of your condition and your individual circumstances.

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