Sleep Apnea is a condition that causes a disruption of breathing during sleep. There are two types of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) breathing disruptions:

Apnea (apnoea):

This is where the soft tissues and muscles in the throat relax and collapse completely to cause a total blockage of the airway – apnea is defined when the airflow is blocked for 10 seconds or more.


This is defined as the partial blockage of the airway resulting in airflow reduction of greater than 50% for 10 seconds or more.

There is also a more rare form of OSA called Central Sleep Apnea which is caused by the brain ‘forgetting’ to breathe during sleep.


What happens during Sleep Apnea?

During sleep people who suffer with OSA will experience a number of episodes of apnea and hypopnea. The lack of oxygen will result in the person coming out of a deeper sleep and in to a lighter sleep, or it will wake the person up entirely as they gasp for breath. Apnea can happen anywhere from a couple of episodes per hour to 30 episodes per hour in severe cases.

A person with OSA will often feel very tired throughout the day, as a result of the lack of oxygen to the brain and the constant awakening from sleep.


How common is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

OSA is a quite a common condition that affects more men than women. There is a lack of data on Irish sufferers, but in the UK is it estimated that 4 in every 100 middle-aged men and 2 in every 100 middle-aged women have OSA. OSA is most common in people aged 35-54, although it can affect people of all ages – including children. Studies have also shown that 60% of people over 65 have OSA. For the majority of people OSA is not diganosed, with only 1 in 4 people with OSA being diagnosed. ( 

The Mayo Clinic identified these factors which can put you at risk from developing sleep apnea:

  • Excess weight. Around half the people with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight. Fat deposits around the upper airway may obstruct breathing.

    However, not everyone with obstructive sleep apnea is overweight and vice versa. Thin people can develop the disorder, too.

  • Narrowed airway. You may inherit naturally narrow airways. Or, your tonsils or adenoids may become enlarged, which can block your airway.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension). Obstructive sleep apnea is relatively common in people with hypertension.
  • Chronic nasal congestion. OSA occurs twice as often in those who have consistent nasal congestion at night, regardless of the cause. This may be due to narrowed airways.
  • Smoking. People who smoke are more likely to have OSA.
  • Diabetes. Obstructive sleep apnea may be more common in people with diabetes.
  • Sex. In general, men are twice as likely as women to have OSA.
  • A family history of sleep apnea. If you have family members with obstructive sleep apnea, you may be at increased risk.
  • Asthma. Recent research has found an association between asthma and the risk of obstructive sleep apnea.

How can Sleep Apnea be treated?

Mild cases of OSA can be initially treated by making lifestyle adjustments such as:

  • Losing weight (if you are overweight or obese)
  • Quitting smoking (if you smoke, as smoking inflames the airways)
  • Limiting alcohol consumption (particularly close to bedtime to prevent throat muscles relaxing)
  • Using a nasal dilator to keep airways open (like our Snoring Aid HERE).

However in moderate to severe cases Continuous Airway Pressure Machines (CPAP) are used to treat OSA. CPAP machines supply continuous compressed air through a mask worn by the patient. This compressed air prevents the airway in the throat from closing. CPAP machines also have an in-built humidifier to prevent nasal dryness, sore throats and nose bleeds.

If you think you may have sleep apnea, be sure to get in touch with your doctor for the best advice and help. With so many people undiagnosed it’s so important to check in with your body and avail of the help that’s out there!


Until next time,

Elisha @ Nasal Medical