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What is obstructive sleep apnea?

About sleep apnea Aug, 09 2023

Why this condition causes your breathing to stop during sleep

Apnea means ‘without breath’. 

Sleep apnea is therefore the name that describes a potentially serious condition that occurs when your breathing involuntarily stops and starts while you sleep.1-3   

Untreated, this breathing irregularity can potentially happen hundreds of times a night. You may be unaware that you have the condition because you only partially wake up when your breathing stops.2,3

Normal airway

Normally, the muscles that comprise the upper airway help maintain their tone, 
allowing them to remain open for the purpose of breathing while you sleep.2,3

Obstructed airway

When the airway muscles relax too much, the airway may narrow slightly or cause an obstruction. This often results in snoring – the noise generated by the vibrating soft or floppy parts of your throat (soft palate and uvula) as air passes through.2,3   

While snoring does not severely reduce airflow while breathing, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) does.   

With OSA, your upper airway is blocked by the soft tissue that collapses when the muscles in your throat relax during sleep. This full airway collapse, which completely stops airflow to your lungs, is known as an ‘apnea’. 1  

A reduction in airflow caused by a partial airway collapse is called a ‘hypopnea’. 1 

Watch this video to learn more:

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