Overview of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Posted by Tyler Britton on Aug 15, 2019 8:54:41 AM

Overview of OSA - Anchorage Sleep Center

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially serious medical condition and sleeping disorder that can lead to severe sleep deprivation. OSA causes you to 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.

The reason you stop breathing repeatedly is because your throat becomes blocked. It looks like this:

  • Your breathing muscles in the back of your throat relax
  • This causes the back of your throat to collapse fully or partially, blocking your airways
  • Your body rouses from sleep to wakefulness to resume breathing
  • You do not remember waking up in the morning

Each blockage/arousal cycle is called an apnea or apnea event.

What is Mild, Moderate, and Severe Obstructive 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

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 at least 240 times per night, which will cause severe sleep deprivation.

Unfortunately, the risk factors are generally the same for mild-severe sleep apnea – severe sleep apnea may cause more noticeable symptoms though, and the treatment uses may potentially be different.

What are Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

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

  • Loud snoring
  • Repeated stops in breathing throughout the night
  • Restless sleep
  • Morning headaches
  • Daytime fogginess
  • Severe daytime sleepiness
  • Chronic irritability

One of the reasons OSA goes unnoticed for so long is because unless you have a bed partner, you are likely not to notice the snoring and repeated stops in breathing. Having a bed partner can make identifying a hallmark OSA symptoms much easier.

What are the Risks of Obstructive Sleep Apnea?


Risk of OSA are numerous and serious, and are caused because of chronic sleep deprivation. Some of the main risks are:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Depression
  • Reduced cognitive performance
  • Reduced stress management
  • Shorter life expectancy
  • Lower quality of life
  • Lower performance in many areas of life

How is OSA Treated?

For most cases of OSA CPAP therapy will likely be the prescribed remedy. However, CPAP therapy may be prescribed only after other options are explored [resmed], including:

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

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
  • Anatomy

CPAP therapy is facilitated via a CPAP machine. 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.

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. There are also many options for breathing masks to offer custom fit and different styles of mask.

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.

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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