About Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common sleep disorder that causes a person to stop breathing repeatedly while asleep. Breathing is interrupted when tissues around the throat relax and cause the airway to collapse or become blocked. Air will stop entering and leaving the lungs. The brain responds to decreasing levels of oxygen and increasing levels of CO2 in the blood stream by waking you up briefly so that you can resume breathing. Depending on the severity of the apnea, each event could last from 10 seconds to over one minute and can occur hundreds of times over one night. These repeated arousals and awakenings can disrupt your sleep by preventing you from reaching deeper stages of sleep and leave you feeling exhausted and sleepy during the day. If left untreated, OSA can strain your heart and contribute to future cardiovascular problems such as hypertension, stroke and heart attack.

Who can develop OSA?

Anyone of any age can develop obstructive sleep apnea. However, your risk is higher if you have a combination of these risk factors:

  • Obesity (very overweight)
  • Large, thick neck (larger than 17 inches for men; larger than 16 inches for women)
  • Family history of obstructive sleep apnea
  • History of cardiovascular disease
  • Male
  • Older than 40 years old
  • Large tonsils
  • Small or recessed chin (your chin tucks in)

What are the symptoms of OSA?

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

  • Loud snoring
  • Gasping or choking during sleep
  • Daytime sleepiness/fatigue
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating and/or memory loss
  • Morning headaches
  • Dry mouth or sore throat in the morning
  • Frequent urination at night
  • Sexual dysfunction

How is OSA diagnosed?

If you suspect that you have OSA, you should visit your family doctor first. Your family doctor will complete a requisition and refer you to a Sleep Clinic for a sleep study and/or assessment to rule out OSA.

What is a sleep study?

A polysomnography test or sleep study is a standardized overnight test which objectively measures several parameters of a person's sleep. It primarily focuses on measuring the patient's sleep architecture, breathing, and movements during sleep. Data is collected by a trained sleep technologist who places several sensors on the patient. These sensors include surface skin electrodes (no needles), respiratory bands/belts, a cannula, and a finger probe. Typically, each sleep study collects about 6-8 hours of data, which is analyzed then interpreted by your sleep physician. At your follow-up appointment, the sleep physician will explain the results of the sleep study.

If you do have OSA, your sleep physician will discuss with you all the possible treatments that would be suitable for you.

CPAP Therapy

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy is one of the most common and effective treatments for OSA. CPAP therapy (pronounced "see-pap") is designed to deliver a constant flow of air (not oxygen) to keep the airway from obstructing.
The CPAP unit generates a constant flow of air at a steady pressure and delivers it through an attached tube and into a nasal mask (for most patients) which sits comfortably on the patient's nose. The flow of air passes through the patient's nose and down the throat and prevents the airway from collapsing or being obstructed.

What are the benefits to CPAP therapy?

  • Oxygenation to your brain and other vital organs will be stabilized.
  • Snoring will be eliminated.
  • Sleep is less fragmented so you can reach deeper stages of sleep and feel more rested during the day.
  • Daytime sleepiness will be reduced.
  • Decrease or prevent hypertension.
  • It is a non-invasive, reversible treatment (i.e. It does not involve surgery or inserting any foreign objects into the body and the treatment can be discontinued if necessary.)
  • There is no recovery time.

Does CPAP therapy cure OSA?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for obstructive sleep apnea. CPAP therapy is considered an excellent long-term treatment for OSA that allows you to enjoy all the benefits of good quality sleep, but only when you use the device. If you discontinue using CPAP, your symptoms associated with OSA will return. You should always consult with your sleep physician before discontinuing CPAP therapy.