Please welcome Dr. Anthony DiMarco, MD, Medical Director and Professor of Physiology at Case Western Reserve University
Woman wearing a CPAP device while sleeping.

What You Need to Know About Obstructive Sleep Apnea

What You Need to Know About Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition which is often related to snoring and chronic fatigue, but it can have dangerous and life-threatening consequences. Because sleep apnea is something, we often receive questions about, we’ve put together this overview.

Overview of the Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

OSA is caused by a combination of physical issues. When resting, all of the muscles in your body relax, including those in your neck, jaw and throat. Upon falling asleep, muscles which support the soft palate, tonsils, tongue and surfaces of the throat while we are awake naturally relax.

However, the soft tissue in individuals with sleep apnea constrict the airway and as the person sleeps, normal breathing is impeded. After 10 seconds or more, the brain senses the lack of oxygen and causes the body to briefly awaken. At that point, the apnea is over and the person starts breathing again. Intervals without breath may last up to a few minutes and repeat up to 30 times in an hour, all throughout the night.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea diagram

Diagram of how a person’s airway is constricted by obstructive sleep apnea. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Some people are more at risk for OSA. For example, men are four times more likely to develop sleep apnea. Additionally, it is more common in people over the age of 65 or women who are pregnant or post-menopausal. There is evidence that sleep apnea is partially hereditary, so those with a family history are more likely to have it as well. Other risk factors include:

  • Being significantly overweight or obese,
  • Having a large neck,
  • Having enlarged tonsils or adenoids which can create a narrow airway,
  • Drinking alcohol, taking sleeping pills or certain prescription medications.
  • Smoking.

Overview of the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

This condition causes someone to continually stop breathing for brief periods throughout the night. It’s often associated with loud snoring, but sleep apnea is a repetition of serious effects on your health.

The symptoms connected with sleep apnea are:

  • Loud snoring,
  • Choking or gasping,
  • Waking up with a sore or noticeably dry mouth,
  • Experiencing periods when you stop breathing, or being told that you stopped breathing while asleep,
  • Morning headaches,
  • Difficulty staying asleep or going back to sleep (insomnia).

People affected by sleep apnea don’t remember feeling unable to breathe and usually don’t recall waking up either. The most easily identifiable effects of sleep apnea are felt during the day.

Tiredness During the Day

One of the main complaints that brings people suffering from OSA to search for answers is a nearly constant tired or drowsy feeling. Some people have trouble staying awake while doing normal activities, like working or driving a car. Because sleep apnea is very disruptive, people struggle to get the rest that they need at night. This impacts their ability to pay attention and feel energized during the day.

Attention & Memory Problems

Sleep apnea is one cause for sleep deprivation. It often results in difficulty remembering things or paying attention. This is also why those who struggle with sleep apnea are more than twice as likely to be involved in car crashes or work related injury.

Headaches & Mood Changes

Many people experience headaches, especially in the morning as a result of the lack of oxygen. Sleep apnea is also strongly connected to irritability, depression and other signs of sleep deprivation.

If you are experiencing these symptoms, consult with your doctor. They may be the first signs of a more serious problem.

Watch this video to learn more about the effects of sleep apnea.

Overview of the Health Effects of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can have an extremely negative impact on your overall health and even shorten your lifespan. It puts people more at risk for serious complications, such as:

  • Type II diabetes,
  • High blood pressure,
  • Heart disease and heart attack,
  • Stroke,
  • Cholesterol problems,
  • Poor liver function,
  • Weight gain,
  • Acid reflux.

Learn more about the Effect of Sleep Apnea on Brain Health and How to Care for Your CPAP Machine.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Diagnosis

The only way to accurately diagnose sleep apnea is through an overnight sleep study. This can be effectively carried out at a certified sleep clinic or at home using special testing equipment.

Contact Sleep Health Solutions at (330) 923-0228 to schedule a consultation.

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