Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a very common condition in which the upper airway gets obstructed by relaxed soft structures during sleep. This obstruction leads to inadequate air exchange in the lungs, increased diaphragm and chest wall muscle contractions as efforts to relieve the obstruction occur. In addition, OSA is characterized by poor sleep quality due to multiple brief periods of waking up during the night as the body moves and loud gasps happen. Finally, due the the poor sleep quality, daytime sleepiness is a feature of this condition, with all the problems this entrails.
There are certain groups of people who are at risk of having OSA. Obese or overweight individuals, patients with enlarged tonsils or large tongues, people with a thick or large neck or individuals who have upper airways with small diameters. The formal diagnosis of OSA is made with an overnight sleep study, however it can be strongly suspected if a person has daytime sleepiness, snores loudly and if there are visible episodes of “not breathing” (apnea) during sleep.
OSA can lead to elevated blood pressure, problems with attention and concentration, daytime sleepiness, irritability, and headaches. Treatment includes the avoidance of alcohol, sleeping on a side, use of a continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) device, surgery to remove extra tissue, and the use of an implantable upper airway stimulator. A primary physician will be able to refer someone who may have this condition to a local sleep specialist.
Marco A. Ramos MD