Obstructive Sleep Apnea

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing stops while sleeping. For people with untreated sleep apnea, these breathing interruptions can range from five to more than 100 times per hour.

These events are caused by a brief (10-20 seconds) blocking of the upper airway, and in turn can cause gasping, choking, loud or frequent snoring.

What are the risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea affects people of all ages, including children. However, risk factors for this disorder include:

  • Being overweight
  • Large neck circumference
  • Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
  • Family history of sleep apnea

What are the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea may occur without a person being aware of the breathing interruptions. The primary symptom of sleep apnea is overall fatigue and tiredness due to constant waking during the night. Moderate to loud snoring is commonly associated with sleep apnea, although not everyone with the disorder snores.

Those with sleep apnea do not spend adequate time in deeper sleep stages, which can lead to moodiness, irritability, and an increased risk for accidents. More serious complications of untreated sleep apnea include hypertension, stroke, and cardiovascular problems (such as heart attack).

How is obstructive sleep apnea diagnosed?

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Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Video Transcription

Obstructive sleep apnea is condition in which breathing is interrupted while sleeping due to tissues at the back to the airway collapsing causing a brief blockage of the throat. Breathing interruptions can range from 5 to more than a hundred times per hour and you may not be aware of them.

Risk factors for sleep apnea include being overweight, a large neck circumference, enlarged tonsils, or adenoids or a family history of sleep apnea. Symptoms may include fatigue or sleepiness moderate too loud snoring or moodiness and irritability. Sleep apnea may lead to high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, or an increased risk of car accidents.

To diagnose sleep apnea your doctor may examine your nose, throat, or mouth for enlarged tissues and recommend a sleep study. Treatment of sleep apnea may include the use of continuous positive airway pressure or a C PAP device, a mask that is worn at night that delivers pressurized air into the nose or mouth to keep the airway open.

A specifically designed mouthpiece which helps keep the airway open during the night or surgery to remove excessive tissue or modify the shape the airway. Losing weight, sleeping on your side, and the avoidance certain substances which affect breathing may be helpful in certain circumstances.

What treatment options are available?

Mild forms of sleep apnea can be treated with conservative measures such as:

  • Sleeping on your side to help your airway stay open.
  • Avoiding medications and substances that affect breathing or cause excessive relaxation such as sleeping pills, herbal supplements, or alcohol.
  • Losing weight, which helps decrease the amount of tissue that may block your airway.

More serious occurrences of sleep apnea can be treated using devices that help the airway stay open throughout the night. They include:

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device which is a mask worn at night that delivers a continuous flow or air into the nostrils
  • Specially designed mouthpieces
  • Surgery to remove tissue, tonsils, adenoids, or uvula

Learn more about obstructive sleep apnea


Questions? Contact the Eastern Iowa Sleep Center today.