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What Is Sleep Apnea?

In the condition known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the throat can close leading to cessation of breathing. Apnea is defined as "a cessation of airflow for at least 10 seconds." This can occur dozens and sometimes even hundreds of times an hour.


When a person falls asleep, the muscles in the throat will relax. When the muscles relax in a person with obstructive sleep apnea, the throat will narrow and can suddenly close, blocking the airway. Typically, someone with obstructive sleep apnea will snore heavily, then stop breathing. The bed partner will observe that the person struggles to breathe but there is no snoring sound. These periods of lack of breathing are followed by sudden attempts to breathe often accompanied by a gasping or choking sound. The person with OSA will partially awaken leading to fragmented, non-refreshing sleep which can be the cause of excessive daytime sleepiness. The lack of breathing also causes the oxygen level in the blood stream to fall leading to multiple medical problems.

Who's at risk for sleep apnea...

Doctors estimate that 9.1% of men and 4% of women have sleep apnea. That translates to 18 - 25 million Americans. Possibly as few as 5% have been diagnosed. Sleep apnea can affect anyone regardless of age or weight, however, it is more prevalent in men than women but a recent study pointed out that the number of women affected may be way underestimated.

If you have a neck size of 16 inches or more as a woman, and 17 inches as a man you have a high risk of having sleep apnea. Risk also increases with increasing alcohol consumption, smoking and age. And the problem is growing worse with the increasing obesity in the United States.

Symptoms of sleep apnea...

Drowsy driving

A Canadian study reported that people with sleep apnea are twice as likely to be in a car crash. They reported that even people with fairly mild sleep apnea had an increased risk of serious crashes.The truckers' associations are informing truck drivers of sleep apnea's seriousness. Sleepiness related to sleep apnea has also been linked to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Chernobyl disaster and Three Mile Island.

Medical consequences of untreated sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is associated with:

Impact of sleep apnea on the economy

A few assumptions:

(The above statistics are related to sleep apnea and the numbers indicated by (*) are estimations by the American Sleep Apnea Association)


CPAP--Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (more information on following page)

Surgery - surgical approaches to the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea are beyond the scope of this website. However, the types of surgery utilized to permanently open the airway include moving the upper and lower jaw forward, removing all or a portion of the soft palate and loose tissues in the throat, implantation of stiffeners in the soft palate, suspension of the tongue muscle, movement of the tongue to a more forward position, and surgical suspension of a small bone in the throat called the hyoid bone.

Oral Sleep Appliances (more information on following page)