What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a disorder in which a person either has shallow breathing or stops breathing repstitively during sleep. In some persons with this problem this happens several hundred times per night.

Why do people get Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
In most adults, Obstructive Sleep Apnea is associated with obesity. Other individuals have deformities of the face or jaw, and others are affected by muscle weakness. Any of these factors can cause collapse of the throat during sleep.

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?
Most patients with obstructive sleep apnea snore. This is often noted by the person’s bed partner who complains about the snoring. Episodes of breathing cessation may be witnessed, and may be quite frightening.

People who have obstructive sleep apnea are often sleepy during the daytime. This happens because each of the stop breathing episodes causes brief arousal from sleep. It is not surprising that patients who are aroused from sleep repetitively during the night would be excessively sleepy.

Why should I worry about having sleep apnea?
There are many health consequences to this problem.

The most immediately life-threatening consequence is to fall asleep driving a car or while performing other activities which require wakefulness. Patients with sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea are much more likely to have problems with automobile accidents than other people.

In the long run, patients with this problem seem to be more prone to hypertension, strokes, and heart disease. There is evidence that diabetes may be more difficult to control when there is inadequate sleep. It may be that persons who have sleep apnea die at a younger age than others, but this has not been definitively proven.
Children with obstructive sleep apnea may have school difficulties and trouble concentrating. Children with obstructive sleep apnea are not usually excessively sleepy. In fact, they are often hyperactive. Because of this, they may be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD). All children who have been diagnosed with these problems should be evaluated for sleep problems.

How is Sleep Apnea diagnosed?

Sleep apnea is diagnosed by performing a test known as polysomnography (PSG). During this test, the patient is hooked up to electrodes which record brain waves (EEG), heart rhythm (EKG), oxygen saturation, breathing effort, and airflow. Other parameters are sometimes measured as well. PSG testing is performed at night at The Center for Respiratory and Sleep Disorders.

How is sleep apnea treated?

Patients with this problem need treatment in most cases. Treatment may be as simple as losing weight. N more severe cases, a device called CPAP is used. This device blows air into the back of the throat of the affected person in order to “splint” it open. As a result, snoring is eliminated, sleep is improved, and there is no more oxygen desaturation.

Some patients are candidates for surgical procedures on the palate, throat and jaw.

What is CPAP?
The term CPAP stands for “Continuous Positive Airway Pressure.” This is a device which blows air under pressure through a nasal mask into the back of the patient’s throat. When this happens the throat is splinted open, snoring is gone, and sleep is improved because the patient no longer stops breathing.

What happens if I can't sleep with CPAP?
Most patients who use CPAP tolerate it well. Most patients who need it wear it and improve. Some patients find it difficult to tolerate, however. In such individuals there is often a problem with the size or type of mask which was used (several brands and styles are available).

At The Center for Respiratory and Sleep Disorders, we assist patients who have trouble tolerating CPAP. Each time CPAP patients return to our Center we ask that they bring their CPAP unit and mask with them. We are often able to fix problems that patients have with mask and CPAP tolerance. We work with home care companies to ensure that CPAP is comfortable and effective.


For more information visit:

American Sleep Apnea Association


44000 West 12 Mile Road, Suite 113, Novi, MI 48377
248.465.9253 (WAKE) Fax: 248.465.9285
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