Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) where repeated episodes of upper airway collapse and obstruction occurs during sleep leading to interruptions in breathing. These interruptions can last for a few seconds to minutes and can occur multiple times throughout the night, disrupting the normal sleep cycle. It is also associated with a decrease in blood oxygen levels stress to the heart.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by interruptions in breathing during sleep. These pauses in breathing can happen repeatedly throughout the night and may last for seconds to minutes. The most common types of sleep apnea are obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea (CSA), and complex sleep apnea syndrome (also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea).

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

This is the most common form of sleep apnea. It occurs when the muscles at the back of the throat relax excessively, leading to a blockage or narrowing of the airway during sleep. As a result, airway is reduced or stopped, causing breathing interruptions or shallow breathing.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

Unlike obstructive sleep apnea, CSA is caused by a lack of respiratory effort during sleep. The brain fails to send signals to the muscles that control breathing, leading to pauses in breathing. This type is much less common than OSA.

Complex Sleep Apnea

This type of sleep apnea involves a combination of both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Common Symptoms include:

Loud Snoring

Gasping Or Choking
During Sleep

Sudden Awakenings

Morning Headaches

Loud Snoring

Gasping Or Choking During Sleep

Sudden Awakenings

Morning Headaches

Excessive daytime sleepiness

Difficulty Concentrating

Irritability and Mood Changes

Irritability and Mood Changes

Irritability and Mood Changes

Daytime Sleepiness


Irritability and
Mood Changes

If left untreated, it can also contribute to the development of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, dementia and fatigue-related accidents.

Loud Snoring

Gasping Or Choking During Sleep

Sudden Awakenings

Morning Headaches

Excessive daytime sleepiness

Difficulty Concentrating

Irritability and Mood Changes

A consultation with an ENT specialist specialising in sleep apnea can help diagnose the underlying cause and develop a personalised treatment plan for a better night’s sleep and improved health.

The proper diagnosis and treatment of OSA are crucial due to several reasons:

Health risks

Untreated OSA can lead to various health problems including hypertension, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity.

Quality of life

OSA can significantly impact daily life by causing daytime fatigue, reduced cognitive function, irritability and mood disturbances. Treating OSA can improve sleep quality and overall well-being.

Reduced risk of accidents and mistakes

Excessive daytime sleepiness resulting from OSA can increase the risk of accidents and mistakes both on the road and at work. Proper treatment can reduce this risk and improve work and academic and work performance.

Improved quality of sleep

Treatment helps to restore normal breathing during sleep, allowing individuals to have a more restful and rejuvenating sleep.

How does sleep apnea differ from snoring?

While snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea, they are not the same thing. Snoring is a common condition where the tissues in the throat vibrate due to turbulent airflow during breathing during sleep. Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, but snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea when it is loud, chronic, and accompanied by other symptoms like gasping, pauses in breathing, and daytime fatigue.

Sleep apnea, on the other hand, involves the cessation or reduction of airflow during sleep, leading to breathing interruptions or shallow breaths. These interruptions in breathing can cause significant health issues if left untreated, unlike snoring, which might not necessarily result in health complications.

It is important to differentiate between occasional snoring and potential signs of sleep apnea. Persistent loud snoring accompanied by other symptoms such as daytime fatigue, waking up gasping or choking, morning headaches, and irritability should prompt further evaluation by a healthcare professional to determine if sleep apnea might be present.

What are the causes and risk factors for OSA?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can be caused by a combination of factors, including anatomy, lifestyle, and certain medical conditions. Here are some of the causes and risk factors associated with OSA:

Certain physical characteristics can increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea. These include:

Certain habits or lifestyle choices can increase the risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea. These include:

Additional factors that might increase the risk of OSA include a family history of sleep apnea, older age, being male (though sleep apnea can affect women as well), and certain ethnicities (such as Asians). Hormonal changes, such as in menopause, can also influence the likelihood of developing sleep apnea.

How is OSA diagnosed?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is diagnosed through a combination of medical history evaluation, physical examination, and sleep studies. The diagnostic process typically involves the following steps:

The doctor will ask questions about symptoms such as loud snoring, daytime sleepiness, observed episodes of stopped breathing during sleep, morning headaches, and other related issues. They may also inquire about risk factors such as obesity, family history, and other medical conditions.

 A physical examination and a nasoscopy may be performed tocheck for anatomical factors that could contribute to sleep apnea, such as enlarged tonsils and adenoids, a deviated nasal septum or enlarged turbinates, a recessed jaw, or a large neck circumference.

Sleep Study (Polysomnography):
Polysomnography is the most common test used to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea. This comprehensive test is often conducted in a hospital or sometimes at home with a sleep diagnostic system. It involves monitoring various body functions during sleep, including:

  • Breathing Patterns
  • Oxygen Levels
  • Heart Rate and Rhythm: Monitors heart activity to detect irregularities.
  • Brain Waves and Sleep Stages
  • Muscle Activity – During the sleep test, these parameters help identify the occurrence and severity of breathing interruptions, the levels of oxygen in the blood, and other related sleep disturbances.

In some cases, a simplified sleep study or home sleep test (HST) may be recommended for individuals with a high likelihood of moderate to severe sleep apnea and no other major medical conditions. HST involves wearing a portable monitoring device at home to collect data on breathing patterns, oxygen levels, and other relevant parameters during sleep.

Based on the results of these assessments, a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea can be confirmed, and the severity of the condition (mild, moderate, or severe) can be determined.

Once diagnosed, appropriate treatment options can be discussed with sleep specialist to manage the condition effectively.

Treatment Options

Treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) vary depending on the severity of the condition and individual factors. Here are some common treatment options:

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

CPAP therapy involves using a machine that delivers a continuous flow of air through a mask worn over the nose or mouth during sleep. This air pressure helps keep the airway open, preventing pauses in breathing.

Oral Appliances

These devices are designed to keep the throat open by repositioning the jaw or tongue during sleep. They are an alternative treatment for those who cannot tolerate CPAP or have mild to moderate sleep apnea.


Surgical options might be considered for those with severe sleep apnea or specific anatomical issues contributing to airway obstruction. Surgical procedures can include:

Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulation

This is a newer treatment option for certain individuals with moderate to severe sleep apnea who cannot tolerate or benefit from CPAP. It involves a surgically implanted device that stimulates the hypoglossal nerve, which controls tongue movement. By stimulating this nerve during sleep, it helps to keep the tongue from blocking the airway.

Lifestyle Changes

Making lifestyle modifications can help improve sleep apnea symptoms and overall health. These changes may include weight loss, regular exercise, avoiding alcohol and sedatives before bedtime, sleeping on your side rather than your back, and maintaining good sleep hygiene.

Treatment plans for obstructive sleep apnea are often individualized based on the severity of the condition, the patient’s preferences, and their response to different therapies. Consulting a healthcare professional or a sleep specialist is crucial to determine the most appropriate treatment approach based on an individual’s specific needs and circumstances.

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