Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a condition in which a person’s airway becomes blocked or closed off repeatedly during sleep. Those with OSA may have episodes during sleep in which they stop breathing (apneas), wake up gasping or choking and/or snore loudly.
Symptoms of those with OSA can include snoring, daytime sleepiness from lack of oxygen during sleep and/or frequent awakening during the night, apnea witnessed by a bed partner, difficulty concentrating during awake times, changes in mood, and dry mouth with morning headaches.
OSA results from the collapse (or closing) of the pharynx (the back of your throat) during sleep and may be caused by a person being overweight/obese, airway crowding caused by enlarged tonsils, large tongues or other anatomical features, gender (men more commonly have OSA than women) and age.
OSA is most commonly diagnosed with a sleep test. Sleep testing can be done in a sleep lab or with a home test (when applicable). Depending on your current health status and risk factors, your healthcare provider will determine which test is most appropriate for you. During the sleep test, your oxygen levels will be monitored, heart, lung and brain activity monitored and the number of times you experience apnea will be recorded. Depending on your specific sleep activity during the test (if done in a facility), your sleep technician may also place you on a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device to treat your apnea and assess for improvement.
The most common treatment of OSA is CPAP therapy. CPAP delivers air (with or without oxygen) into a mask on your nose or mouth that helps keep your airway open during sleep. The flow and pressure of air is based on the amount needed to keep your airway open. For those individuals with airway crowding or other anatomical features creating apnea, oral appliances designed to keep your airway open may be used. Surgical intervention may be indicated for those with airway crowding caused by enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Weight loss for overweight/obese individuals is also recommended and sometimes cures OSA.
OSA left untreated does not just interrupt sleep or make you feel tired. OSA can make you feel tired to the point you may fall asleep while driving and result in car accidents. Untreated OSA can also lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and even early death.