Obstructive Sleep Apnea: An Overview

Written by Manny Erlich on June 19, 2012. Posted in Sleep Apnea Symptoms & Treatments, Snoring 101


OSA is one of the most common causes of snoring, occurring when the muscles in the upper throat relax during sleep and block the flow of air into the lungs causing a person’s breathing to stop for a significant period of time, sometimes as long as 10 or more seconds.

The loud snoring sound that is so common in people who have OSA is caused when the air tries to pass through the blocked airway. People with obstructive sleep apnea repeatedly have their loud snoring interrupted with periods of silence during which there is no breathing. The period of silence is then followed by a snort and a gasp for air.

If not treated OSA can be a very dangerous condition, as the sleeper looses significant levels of oxygen. Repeated loss of oxygen can cause serious cognitive decline.


Not all people who snore have sleep apnea, but if loud snoring is a problem for you and you feel as though you area always sleepy it may be worth investigating. Here are some factors that may cause obstructive sleep apnea:

  • The shape of your palate or airway may be narrower than normal
  • A large neck (17 or more inches in men and 16 or more inches in women)
  • A large tongue • In children, large tonsils and adenoids
  • Obesity • A lower jaw that is shorter than the upper jaw.

Also, sleeping on your back may increase sleep apnea episodes.


Generally, family members witness or recognize the periods of apnea. The person who has obstructive sleep apnea is usually unaware of the apnea episodes occurring during the night. Often people with obstructive sleep apnea wake up tired in the morning and continue to feel sleepy and drowsy throughout the day.

People with OSA may experience:

  • Irritability and impatience
  • Forgetfulness
  • Headaches
  • Sleepiness or tiredness while driving or working
  • Falling asleep while reading or watching television
  • Depression or hyperactivity in children.

Depending on the severity of the case, the person sleeping next to a victim of sleep apnea may be able to easily diagnose the case, but not always. If you sleep alone it’s even more difficult to determine. In this situation, a sleep study (polysomnograph) is usually recommended so a professional can monitor sleeping patterns for a night.


There are many treatment and procedures to help take care of your obstructive sleep apnea. Depending on how natural of a treatment you want or how serious your problem is, the way you treat your sleep apnea will be different.

How To Treat Sleep Apnea Naturally:

The goal in treating obstructive sleep apnea is to allow the breath to move freely through the airways during sleep. For some people simple lifestyle changes may actually eliminate sleep apnea. Try the following things if you are looking for ways to treat sleep apnea naturally:

  • Avoid alcohol or sedatives before going to bed
  • Avoid sleeping on the back
  • Lose excess weight.

Medical Treatments:

If treating sleep apnea naturally does not work for you, you want to consider Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP Therapy). CPAP Therapy uses A CPAP a mask worn while sleeping that is connected to a machine which pumps air through the mask and into the lungs. This is a proven treatment for most people with obstructive sleep apnea, although many people find it uncomfortable to use CPAP Therapy and stop using CPAP as a treatment within the first few weeks.

People who are not comfortable using CPAP may decide to treat their obstructive sleep apnea with an oral appliance fitted for the mouth and worn during sleep.

Provent is another medical device used to treat obstructive sleep apnea. Provent Therapy uses the power of a person’s breathing to create expiratory positive airway pressure to keep the airway open during sleep. Some people who are not comfortable using CPAP have been known to prefer Provent Therapy.

Sleep Apnea Surgery:

Surgery has also been used to help some people cure obstructive sleep apnea. Surgical procedures include an uvulopalatopharyngaplasty (the process of removing excess tissue at the back of the throat).

A less invasive obstructive sleep apnea treatment is a relatively new surgical procedure called the Pillar Procedure. The procedure is performed in a doctor’s office and takes approximately 15 minutes while the patient is under local anesthesia. This treatment uses three small polyester rods to add support to the soft palate. The rods are implanted into the soft palate and over time create a slight stiffening of the soft palate keeping it from totally relaxing during sleep.

For children, surgery to remove the tonsils and adenoids may be a viable solution to treat obstructive sleep apnea.


Due to the fact that obstructive sleep apnea leaves people feeling excessive daytime sleepiness, people who do not treat their obstructive sleep apnea condition may experience several mood-altering and performance-based consequences. As a result of daytime sleepiness, sufferers of OSA experience higher levels of anxiety and depression, lower sex drives and lower performance levels at work or school. In addition, they have a greater risk of being involved in automobile accidents and being involved in industrial accidents.

Not treating obstructive sleep apnea also greatly increases the likelihood of many, more serious health risks including the following:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke


It is important to see a specialist if you feel as though you are always sleepy or have symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. This is a disorder that varies in severity, so if you tried to treat yourself without having any success it is important that you contact a doctor, dentist or sleep specialist for an evaluation.

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Manny Erlich

International Foundation of Employee Benefits - Certified Employee Benefits Specialist