What is obstructive sleep apnea?

Sleep Apnea is a condition affecting 2-4% of the Australian population and is often encouraged through weight gain or age.

Apnea refers to a temporary cessation in breathing, occurring mainly during sleep. Individuals with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) not only have a reduced breathing pattern while sleeping, but on the contrary, they may also completely stop breathing for 20-40 seconds at a time.

The soft tissue obstructs the back of the throat, closing as the muscles relax when the airways of the mouth close. Lack of oxygen causes a momentary wake until a regular breathing pattern returns.

Two types of OSA are ‘Acute’ and ‘Chronic,’ the most prevalent being Chronic, characterised by the throat muscles gradually becoming weakened, thus slowly blocking the airways.

Alternatively, Acute Sleep Apnea is a condition where the hypothalamus isn’t receiving the signals quick enough to reply to the body to take a breath, causing a delay in respiratory functions.

The factors enhancing the likelihood of developing OSA include being a male or being part of the aging population. It’s common in people who have suffered a stroke alas—the risk of stroke increases for individuals with OSA alongside the development of hypertension and becoming insulin resistant.


Pathophysiological causes of OSA relate to the upper airway dilator muscles responding to respiratory demands during sleep. The delay in response propels the body to wake to restore a regular breathing pattern.

Symptoms include snoring, gaining weight, gasping or choking sensations upon waking, excessive daytime sleepiness, morning headache, and sexual dysfunction.

The sign of snoring is a response to narrow or obstructed airways. 80% of sufferers have morning headaches resulting from oxygen deprivation. To diagnose the condition, individuals must undergo an overnight ‘Sleep Study’ that analyses breathing patterns and oxygen levels.

It often goes by undiagnosed, but OSA participants of the ‘Sleep Study’ show moments of disrupted breathing with 30 or more ways of obstruction.

Researchers of PLOS Medicine have identified a close link between young suffers from OSA and poor memory and cognitive functions. OSA has the potential to affect young people’s cognitive potential.

These children have enlarged tonsils or problems in airway structures. Women are more inclined to OSA after menopause or those with fattier tissue surrounding the neck.

Some are born with narrow airways, making them more prone to OSA.


Management strategies of OSA are to avoid consumption of alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, and sleeping tablets, as well as not sleeping upright for obese OSA sufferers.

Alcohol has a relaxing effect on muscles and may worsen the condition. Sleeping tablets reduce the brain’s drive and result in delayed signals for the body to breathe.

A primary treatment recommended by Doctors is losing weight to reduce the number of risk factors. Adequate sleep is encouraged to treat OSA and engage in nasal continuous positive pressure (CPAP). CPAP involves a pump supplying air through a mask covering the mouth and nose.

The air aids to open the throat through a cushioning effect used during the night. Medications such as Acetazolamide can help stimulate the brain to maintain respiratory requirements while asleep.

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