Why Minor Obstructive Sleep Apnea Still Requires CPAP Therapy

Posted by Tyler Britton on Aug 25, 2019 10:00:00 AM

Why minor OSA still requires CPAP therapy - Anchorage Sleep Center

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a medical condition and sleeping disorder where you repeatedly stop breathing throughout the night, anywhere from 5 times per hour up to 30+ times per hour. Each time you stop breathing you rouse yourself out of sleep to begin breathing again, though in the morning you will not remember rousing.

Your throat becomes blocked because your breathing muscles in the back of your throat relax, causing the back of your throat to collapse fully or partially, blocking your airways. Each blockage/arousal cycle is called an apnea or apnea event.

Risks of OSA

Risk of OSA are associated with:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Shorter life expectancy
  • Lower quality of life
  • Lower performance in many areas of life

Symptoms of OSA

Sleep apnea and brain functionClick the picture to read our blog article about OSA's negative effects on brain function

Some of the most common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea are:

  • Loud snoring
  • Restless sleep
  • Morning headaches
  • Daytime fogginess
  • Severe daytime sleepiness
  • Chronic irritability

Sleep apnea can be considered mild, moderate, or severe.

What is Considered Mild Sleep Apnea?

Here is a general breakdown of what his considered mild, moderate, and severe OSA.

  • Mild OSA: 5-14 apneas per hour of sleep
  • Moderate OSA: 15-30 apneas per hour of sleep
  • Severe OSA: 30+ apneas per hour of sleep

The implications here are that at best, even mild sleep apnea will cause you to rouse several dozen times per night, which is plenty enough to cause sleep deprivation. With severe apnea, you will rouse more than 240 times per night, which will cause severe sleep deprivation.

As a result, your life may be shorter, unhappier, and less performant than if you treated your sleep apnea. Unfortunately, the risk factors are generally the same for mild-severe sleep apnea, the only difference may be the treatment used.

What is CPAP Therapy?

A CPAP device/machine stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure and is the primary component of CPAP therapy and sleep apnea treatment.

A CPAP machine is a small, rectangular box with a motorized fan inside and an adjacent humidifier - technically, a humidification chamber is optional, but most people use because lack of humidification while using CPAP devices can lead to irritation in the nasal passage and throat.

Connected to the CPAP device is a flexible tube that leads to a breathing mask. The hose is a lightweight and kept warm in order to reduce condensation. Among other things, too much condensation can lead to sanitation problems like, namely, mold growth.

Finally, the primary component in CPAP machines is a small fan inside. The small fan inside delivers gentle, positive pressure through a connected hose to the breathing mask. The result, no more lapses of breathing at night because the positive air pressure keeps your airway open. The pressure can be a little strange at first, but it’s rare that people report any long terms problems associated with it.

CPAP Treatment and Alternatives for Mild Sleep Apnea

Regardless of the severity of sleep apnea, CPAP therapy will likely be the prescribed remedy. However, CPAP therapy may be prescribed only after other, traditional, DIY options fail [resmed]. These include:

  • Life style changes (eating, drinking, tobaco use, and exercise habits)
  • Losing weight
  • Changing sleep position
  • Medication changes

Why is this the case? Because mild sleep apnea may be caused by (and therefore naturally preventable) from:

  • Being overweight
  • Excessive drinking, tobacco use, or poor eating habits
  • Sleeping on your back
  • Using certain medications
  • Not exercising enough

Mild sleep apnea should still be addressed with the same seriousness as severe sleep apnea, because they both carry risks for:

  • Lower quality of life
  • Shortened life span
  • Risks for heart disease and other health conditions


If you live in Alaska, and are concerned that you or a loved one has sleep apnea or has already been diagnosed, please consult with our sleep specialists about any questions you have.

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Topics: Sleep Apnea

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