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Overview

  • Illustration showing soft tissues of the throat

    Obstructive sleep apnea


Obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder. It causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start during sleep.

There are several types of sleep apnea, but the most common is obstructive sleep apnea. This type of apnea occurs when your throat muscles intermittently relax and block your airway during sleep. A noticeable sign of obstructive sleep apnea is snoring.

Treatments for obstructive sleep apnea are available. One treatment involves using a device that keeps your airway open while you sleep. Another option is a mouthpiece to thrust your jaw forward during sleep. In more severe cases it may be advised to see a primary care physician to assess the need for a CPAP device.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Loud snoring
  • Observed episodes of breathing cessation during sleep
  • Abrupt awakenings accompanied by gasping or choking
  • Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • Morning headache
  • Difficulty concentrating during the day
  • Experiencing mood changes, such as depression or irritability
  • High blood pressure
  • Nighttime sweating
  • Decreased libido
When to see a doctor

Consult a medical professional if you experience, or if your partner observes, the following:

  • Snoring loud enough to disturb your sleep or that of others
  • Waking up gasping or choking
  • Intermittent pauses in your breathing during sleep
  • Excessive daytime drowsiness, which may cause you to fall asleep while you're working, watching television or even driving a vehicle
Many people may not think of snoring as a sign of something potentially serious, and not everyone who snores has obstructive sleep apnea.

Be sure to talk to your doctor if you experience loud snoring, especially snoring that's punctuated by periods of silence. With obstructive sleep apnea, snoring usually is loudest when you sleep on your back, and it quiets when you turn on your side.

Ask your doctor about any sleep problem that leaves you chronically fatigued, sleepy and irritable. Excessive daytime drowsiness may be due to other disorders, such as narcolepsy.