What is obstructive sleep apnea?

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a collection of disorders characterized by periods of shallow breathing or complete pauses in breathing during our sleep. These disruptions can range from brief pauses in breathing, lasting between 20-40 seconds, to a complete obstruction lasting 1-2 minutes. These disruptions are usually short but they are enough to disrupt sleep patterns, cause snoring, and create multiple health-related issues during the day.

It’s estimated as many as 6% of adults suffer from some sort of sleep apnea and that up to 10% of children suffer. It is also suspected that up to 90% of cases are undiagnosed. The most common type of disorder is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA occurs when the soft tissues in the back of the throat relax during sleep and block the airway. This usually happens as a result of the tongue and soft tissues in the oral cavity lacking proper strength and falling to the back of the throat.

Many OSA sufferers are unaware of their condition, as it usually only manifests during sleep. The initial symptoms such as fatigue or headache are not exclusive to sleep apnea, allowing the condition to go undiagnosed for months, years, or even decades. In children symptoms can manifest as bedwetting, clenching and grinding teeth, snoring, waking up throughout the night, irritability and behavioral issues. In adults symptoms can manifest as abrupt awakenings, daytime sleepiness, mood changes, depression/anxiety, dry mouth, high blood pressure, snoring, or morning headaches and neck tension.

Sleep apnea symptoms can occur in healthy adults and children and are generally minimal cause for concern. If they become chronic, however, it’s time to investigate the condition more thoroughly.