What Is Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or OSA, is a common sleep disorder affecting tens of millions of Americans. It affects the ability to breathe normally during sleep. See the video above for an example of an apnea.

OSA has a number of potential causes, including obesity, soft tissues, or enlarged palate, tongue, tonsils, or adenoids. Any of these can cause the upper airway to obstruct during sleep. These obstructions in the upper airway lead to a decrease in airflow, causing snoring, hypopneas, and apneas. 

Upper airway obstructions of any kind can decrease the amount of oxygen going to the brain, heart, and other vital organs. OSA has been shown to lead to heart disease, hypertensionstroke, dementia, erectile dysfunction, cancer, diabetes, memory loss, weight gain, daytime sleepiness, and premature death. Daytime sleepiness can lead to poor job performance and even traffic accidents.

The most common and preferred treatment for OSA is Positive Airway Pressure (PAP). PAP treatment involves breathing room air at a higher pressure through a mask that covers the nose and/or mouth. The air pressure works like a mechanical splint to hold the airway open during sleep, allowing the patient to breathe normally and stay asleep. Other treatments for OSA include dental appliances, weight loss, and surgeries.