What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing stops and starts repeatedly. If you snore heavily and feel tired even after sleeping all night, you may have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It is the most common type of sleep-related breathing disorder, causing you to stop and start breathing while you sleep. Your doctor will analyze your signs and symptoms based on the information you provide.

They'll review your family history of sleep apnea or other sleep disorders to determine if you have a risk factor for the condition and if you have any complications from undiagnosed sleep apnea (such as atrial fibrillation, hard-to-control hypertension, or type 2 diabetes). If someone tells you that they snore or wheeze while you sleep, or if you have other symptoms of poor quality of sleep, such as excessive daytime sleepiness, it may be time to talk to your healthcare provider about OSA. Your doctor will perform a physical exam to look for signs of other conditions that may increase your risk of OSA (such as obesity, narrowing of the upper respiratory tract, enlarged tonsils, or large neck circumference). If obstructive sleep apnea persists for a long time without treatment, you're at risk of serious health problems and serious events.

People with OSA often snore heavily. However, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Blood tests can check hormone levels and rule out endocrine disorders that can cause sleep disorders. Primary snoring may be due to nose or throat conditions, sleeping style (especially when sleeping on your back), overweight or old age, or the use of alcohol or other depressants.

Your doctor may give you a monitor to use while you sleep and to measure your oxygen levels and heart rate to help diagnose OSA. The doctor may also order other tests to check for medical conditions that may cause sleep apnea. With OSA, snoring is usually stronger when you sleep on your back and calms down when you turn on your side. Severe OSA means that your AHI is greater than 30 (more than 30 episodes per hour).

Diagnosing OSA usually involves participating in a sleep study, in which you are watched while you sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea can cause people to have problems with certain medications or after major surgery because they are more likely to have breathing problems (especially when they are under anesthesia or lying on their backs). This type of apnea occurs when the throat muscles intermittently relax and block the airway during sleep.Johns Hopkins otolaryngology and head and neck surgery experts are now available to implant an FDA-approved hypoglossal nerve stimulator as a new treatment strategy for patients with OSA. The device stimulates the upper respiratory tract in sync with breathing to relieve obstruction during sleep.

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