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Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing stops involuntarily for brief periods of time during sleep. Normally, air flows smoothly from the mouth and nose into the lungs at all times. Periods when breathing stops are called apnea or apneic episodes. When this occurs the normal flow of air is repeatedly stopped throughout the night. The flow of air stops because airway space in the area of the throat is too narrow. Snoring is characteristic of obstructive sleep apnea. Snoring is caused by airflow squeezing through the narrowed airway space. Untreated sleep apnea can cause serious health problems such as:
Proper diagnosis and treatment are essential to preventing complications.
Sleep apnea causes episodes of decreased oxygen supply to the brain and other parts of the body. Sleep quality is poor, which causes daytime drowsiness and lack of clarity in the morning. People with sleep apnea may also experience the following symptoms:
Daytime drowsiness puts people with sleep apnea at risk for motor vehicle crashes and industrial accidents. Treatment can help to completely relieve daytime drowsiness caused by sleep apnea.
Risk for OSA increases if you have conditions or features that narrow the upper airway. Risk factors of OSA include:
Heart disease is more common in obese people, and obesity is a risk factor of heart disease, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea.
A diagnosis of sleep apnea begins with a complete history and physical examination. A history of daytime drowsiness and snoring are important clues. Your doctor will examine your head and neck to identify any physical factors that are associated with sleep apnea. Your doctor may ask you to fill out a questionnaire about daytime drowsiness, sleep habits, and quality of sleep.
You should always talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing daytime drowsiness or consistently having problems sleeping. OSA has many different treatment options that can make symptoms manageable.
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