Ear, Nose, Throat, & Allergy

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Do you feel tired during the day despite sleeping 7-8 hours per night? Does your spouse complain about your snoring, or note that you “stop breathing” while sleeping? It is possible that you may suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA, considered one of the most common sleep disorders in the US, is caused by complete or partial obstruction of the upper airway. After falling asleep, the muscles in the roof of the mouth (palate), tongue, and throat begin to relax and collapse. This can result in repetitive episodes of shallow or paused breathing while sleeping. Such episodes are called “apneas”, and can cause a patient’s oxygen levels to decrease. Common symptoms of OSA include heavy snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, gasping while asleep, frequent awakening, and/or trouble sleeping. OSA is an important condition to recognize and diagnose; if untreated, OSA can increase the risk for cardiac and pulmonary-related disease (hypertension and heart disease). The first step in getting evaluated for OSA is to see an otolaryngologist, who can perform a complete head and neck examination to identify anatomical risk factors for OSA. In many cases, the next appropriate test would be a sleep study, or polysomnogram. A sleep study typically consists of spending a night in the hospital while the patient’s sleep habits are recorded. In some situations, it is also possible to have an at-home sleep study, although the results underestimate the degree of sleep disturbance. Pending the results, some patients may be considered candidates for continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. CPAP is a small device that has a mask attached to it which improves patient breathing at night. If no OSA is present, conservative measures are usually recommended. This includes exercise and weight loss, avoid sleeping in the supine position (laying on back), and avoid sedatives and stimulants (alcohol and coffee) before bedtime. If you or family members have concerns regarding obstructive sleep apnea, please do not hesitate to contact Colden and Seymour Ear, Nose, Throat, and Allergy to set up an appointment. Opinions expressed here are those of Daryl Colden, MD, FACS, and Christopher Jayne, BA. These opinions are not a substitute for a medical evaluation performed by a medical provider.