Pulmonary and Sleep Clinic

OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNEA - ADULTS

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a problem in which your breathing pauses during sleep. This occurs because of narrowed or blocked airways.

obstructive sleep apnea

what are the causes of sleep apnea?

When you sleep, all of the muscles in your body become more relaxed. This includes the muscles that help keep your throat open so air can flow into your lungs.

Normally, your throat remains open enough during sleep to let air pass by. Some people have a narrow throat. When the muscles in their upper throat relax during sleep, the tissues close in and block the airway. This stop in breathing is called apnea.

Loud snoring is a telltale symptom of OSA. Snoring is caused by air squeezing through the narrowed or blocked airway. Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea though.

Other factors also may increase your risk:

  • A lower jaw that is short compared to your upper jaw
  • Certain shapes of the roof of your mouth (palate) or airway that cause it to collapse more easily
  • Large neck or collar size, 17 inches (43 centimeters) or more in men and 16 inches (41 centimeters) or more in women
  • Large tongue, which may fall back and block the airway
  • Obesity
  • Large tonsils and adenoids that can block the airway 
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Sleeping on your back can also cause your airway to become blocked or narrowed.​

Central sleep apnea is another sleep disorder during which breathing can stop. It occurs when the brain temporarily stops sending signals to the muscles that control breathing.

what are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

If you have OSA, you usually begin snoring heavily soon after falling asleep.

  • The snoring often becomes very loud.
  • Snoring is interrupted by a long silent period while your breathing stops.
  • The silence is followed by a loud snort and gasp, as you attempt to breathe.
  • This pattern repeats throughout the night. 

Most people with OSA do not know their breathing starts and stops during the night. Usually, a sleep partner or other family members hear the loud snoring, gasping, and snorting. Snoring can be loud enough to hear through walls. Sometimes, people with OSA wake up gasping for air. 

People with sleep apnea may:

  • Wake up unrefreshed in the morning
  • Feel sleepy or drowsy throughout the day
  • Act grumpy, impatient, or irritable
  • Be forgetful
  • Fall asleep while working, reading, or watching TV
  • Feel sleepy while driving or even fall asleep while driving
  • Have hard-to-treat headaches 

Other problems that may occur include:

  • Depression
  • Hyperactive behavior, especially in children
  • Difficult to treat high blood pressure
  • Leg swelling (if apnea is severe)