Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissues in the throat relax and cause an obstruction of the airway. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea, a serious sleeping disorder. The condition occurs during sleep in repetitive episodes when the muscles at the back of the throat relax enough to partially or completely block the airway.
Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
The throat muscles involved in obstructive sleep apnea support the soft palate (which forms part of the roof of the mouth), the uvula (the tissue that hangs from the soft palate), the tonsils, tongue and other tissues in the throat. As your throat muscles relax during sleep, the airway narrows and blocks oxygenated air from flowing into your lungs.
When your body doesn’t get enough oxygen during sleep, your brain triggers the body to wake up to get air. You might snort, gasp or choke as a result, and this pattern may be repeated up to 30 times or more per hour every night. You may not get the restful sleep you need.
The risks for obstructive sleep apnea include:
- Being overweight
- Having a family history of sleep apnea
- Being a male
- Having a large neck circumference
- Having chronic nasal congestion because of nasal structure or allergies
- Drinking alcohol
- Using sedatives or tranquilizers
- Having high blood pressure
- Living with certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and Parkinson’s disease
Obstructive Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Two major signs of obstructive sleep apnea are episodes of stopped breathing and abrupt awakenings with choking or gasping, usually observed by a bed partner.
Other common signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS)
- Loud snoring
- A sore throat or dry mouth in the morning
- Trouble concentrating throughout the day
- Reduced libido
- Mood swings
- High blood pressure
Diagnosing Obstructive Sleep Apnea
A doctor can diagnose obstructive sleep apnea by understanding your symptoms, performing a physical exam of your throat, mouth and nose and running certain tests. You may be referred for a sleep study—either an-lab polysomnogram or an at-home sleep study—as well.
Treatments for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Treatments for obstructive sleep apnea will typically include lifestyle changes such as losing weight, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol and certain medications and avoiding sleeping on your back.
In addition, certain mechanical breathing assistance devices, such as CPAP and Bi-PAP machines, may be prescribed. In more severe cases, surgery may be needed to treat obstructive sleep apnea.
The medical specialists at Tampa General Hospital’s Neuroscience Institute are experts in diagnosing and treating sleep disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea.