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About Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common problem that affects breathing during sleep. "Apnea" means not breathing. A person with OSA has times during sleep in which air cannot flow normally into the lungs. The blockage of airflow is usually caused by the collapse of the soft tissues in the back of the throat. These pauses in breathing occur off and on during the night, causing frequent awakenings which prevent a person from getting continuous good-quality sleep. OSA has been associated with a variety of other medical issues that may be caused or worsened by the obstructive apneas, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. 

Symptoms of sleep apnea can include loud snoring that may have gasps and choking sounds, pauses in breathing observed by another person, and restless sleep with frequent awakening. There are a number of different treatments for OSA. Treatments that can be tried at home include weight loss, avoiding alcohol before bed, and sewing a tennis ball into the back of pajamas to avoid sleeping on the back. Other treatments may be recommended by a doctor after a sleep evaluation. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is a device used with a nose or face mask which delivers airflow/pressure into the airway, holding the airway open and keeping it from collapsing. Oral devices worn during sleep may help to reposition the jaw in order to keep the airway open. Surgery such as tonsillectomy, jaw surgery, and upper airway surgery may be recommended in some cases and should only be used after trying non-surgical treatments.

Content adapted from: American Thoracic Society: Patient Resources. "Healthy Sleep in Adults," "Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Adults."