Richard M. Tempero, M.D., Ph. D.
Boys Town Ear, Nose & Throat Institute
What do you think of when you hear the words obstructive sleep apnea? Snoring, fatigue, or a restless night’s sleep? As unpleasant as these symptoms may be, obstructive sleep apnea can potentially be life-threatening.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a medical condition characterized by recurrent episodes of airway obstruction during sleep. Approximately 4-6% of the U.S. population has this condition.
Adult obstructive sleep apnea is related to obesity, anatomic abnormalities, such as nasal obstruction or small jaw, and syndromes associated with lower muscle tone. Often adults have symptoms for many years before they discuss these issues with their physician.
Obstructive sleep apnea causes symptoms during the night recognized by a bed partner and symptoms during the day recognized by the patient. Night time symptoms include snoring, apneic episodes, which are breathing pauses that may sound like choking or gasping for breath, and restless sleep. Daytime symptoms include sleepiness, fatigue, morning headache, and changes in cognition or memory.
Obstructive sleep apnea in adults is diagnosed with a sleep study. Treatments can range from medical therapies such as a CPAP or BiPAP that provide continuous positive airway pressure to surgical procedures directed specifically at anatomic regions of airway obstruction.
To help prevent obstructive sleep apnea, maintain an ideal body weight. Obesity is one of the main contributing factors in this condition. Obstructive sleep apnea that is not appropriately managed can worsen other conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, or high blood pressure.
If you recognize symptoms associated with obstructive sleep apnea in yourself or a loved one, please seek medical advice from your primary physician. Diagnosis and management of sleep apnea is important for quality of life and to help prevent heart and lung problems associated with long standing sleep apnea.