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An Introductory Guide to OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea)

Nov 23, 2020
· 6 mins read

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that around 22 million Americans suffer from. Sufferers of this condition aren’t able to get a good night’s sleep cause their breathing stops when they try to go to bed.

Sleep is an essential part of our lives. Studies have shown that individuals who didn’t get a good night’s sleep had significantly more health problems than those who slept well [1].

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is one of the leading causes of sleep apnea. It is estimated that around 80 % of Americans that suffer from this condition go undiagnosed [2].  If you or one of your family members suffers from this condition, you know how debilitating it can be.

Although the only way to cure this disease is to go into surgery, not all people will be able to fix their sleep apnea. The treatment methods depend entirely on the severity of the condition. Currently, there are many therapeutic methods that you can use to alleviate the symptoms.

The first step to treating any illness is to learn about it. We’ve tailored this article specifically to help people that don’t know much about the management of obstructive sleep apnea. 

What is OSA?

Patient dealing with OSA

OSA, a medical abbreviation for Obstructive Sleep Apnea, is a sleep-related breathing disorder in which the upper airway gets obstructed when you try to lay down to sleep which causes abnormalities in your sleep patterns. Let’s take a quick look at the respiratory system to understand this condition a bit better.

Your breathing system starts in your nasal canal and moves down into your lungs through this tube called a trachea. Then an exchange of gases happens in your lungs, and you exhale carbon dioxide, which your body doesn’t need. Now if you suffer from OSA, airflow is blocked or "obstructed" from reaching the back of the nasal canal.

This prevents you from breathing properly due to the collapsibility of the throat muscles, and as a result of this, it’s impossible to sleep properly.

How was OSA Discovered?

Sleep apnea has been around for many years, and we have evidence that people have been suffering from sleep-related disorders for centuries. However, this condition wasn’t studied much back then, as doctors and researchers didn’t have all the tools we do today.

It wasn’t until William Ostner that this condition got a name, ‘Pickwickian syndrome.’ He named this term after a Charles Dickens novel ‘The Pickwick Paper.’ One of the overweight characters in the book showcases the same symptoms that most sufferers of sleep apnea did.

However, later on, Pickwickians syndrome got classified into a sleep-related illness that referred only to Obesity hypoventilation syndrome since obesity may cause pharyngeal collapse, and sleep apnea became its own separate term in 1965.

Medicine has come a long way since these days, and today we know a lot more about OSA. In 1981 the first CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device was created, which gave individuals a way to treat this illness without surgery. The sleek and efficient machines that we use today are a far cry from those devices; however, they still use the same basic principle that the first-ever CPAP device used. We use this device today and OSA on CPAP is a very effective form of therapy.

Common Symptoms of OSA:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea


If you’re unsure whether you have this adult obstructive sleep apnea or not, then you’ll want to look at some of the symptoms that people that have sleep apnea show. We’ve given some of these symptoms down below:

  • Insomnia is one of the most common symptoms.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (standard questionnaires like the Epworth Sleepiness Scale can help determine to evaluate the severity of your daytime sleepiness)
  • You tend to have episodes where you wake up at night gasping for air.
  • Ask a loved one if they’ve seen you have difficulty breathing while you sleep.
  • If you find yourself sleeping during the day this may be due to impairments caused by increased risk for OSA.
  • Dry mouth might be a result of your nasal canal being blocked.
  • You might find that you snore a lot at night.

Bear in mind that this list is not exhaustive, and you’ll need to do a bit more research into this subject specifically the symptoms and risk factors. So you’ve learned that you display quite a lot of these symptoms; what next?

OSA can differ from person to person, so your next step should be to get a diagnosis. This blog will give you everything you need to know to find a doctor near you.

What Does a Diagnosis Mean For You?

Patient Being Diagnosed

OSA is a serious condition that needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. Delaying a visit to your healthcare provider might make your health much worse. Patients with comorbidities or more than one disease or illness, that are experiencing obstructive sleep apnea symptoms should not hesitate to see their doctor since OSA could exacerbate their other conditions.  Following up with your health care provider and figuring out your Apnea-Hypopnea Index (AHI) score may go a long way in helping you figure out how to manage this sleep disorder and figure out the correct treatment of OSA. Your AHI score is the sum of the number of apneas or pauses in breathing plus the number of hypopneas (periods of oxygen desaturation of 3% or more)that occur each hour. Your primary care doctor may schedule some tests for you like an at-home sleep study or polysomnogram which is a sleep study that is done in a lab supervised by trained clinicians. Individuals that get deprived of sleep have been shown to have decreased oxygen saturation, high blood pressure (hypertension), and increased susceptibility to heart attacks, cardiovascular disease also known as heart disease, congestive heart failure, and coronary artery disease[3]. There are also some physiologic indicators of OSA like enlarged tonsils or adenoids.

So if you’re unsure whether or not you need to get a diagnosis, then we highly you visit the Sleep Education website which is a resource of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to find a sleep center near you.

Although this condition might seem intimidating at first, you needn't worry much. A diagnosis and follow-up with your doctor will help you figure out how to deal with this condition in the most efficient manner possible. In recent years modern medicine has seen significant advancements in this field, and there’s a lot of treatment solutions that are accessible for sleep apnea patients like PAP therapy.

Treatment Methods:

There are many options for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. We’ve listed some of the most popular treatment options below:

  • CPAP: CPAP therapy is one of the most popular methods that are non-invasive for moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea patients. It delivers a continuous airflow pressure to keep your airways open.
  • BiPAP: Also known as BiLevel. It provides two levels of airway pressure
  • APAP: These machines are more adaptable than the other two. APAP automatically adjusts to your breathing pattern.
  • Sleep apnea Mouth Guards: This is also known as an oral appliance. This option is available for those who need mandibular adjustments.
  • Surgery: Upper airway surgery also known as uvulopalatopharyngoplasty where the tonsils or the adenoids may be removed. This option is available for some individuals who suffer from severe OSA and may have a body mass index of 30 or greater. 

Other treatment modalities may include weight loss since the prevalence of OSA is higher in overweight patients. Bariatric surgery may help people who find it difficult to lose weight on their own and in turn, it can improve your OSA severity. What treatment you use will depend entirely on your diagnosis and the results of your sleep study or polysomnography. Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome is different for every person, and you’ll only know your options once you take a trip to your doctor and get a thorough diagnosis of OSA. Your doctor will be able to guide you about what methods are best.

Another factor you’ll need to consider is personal comfort. The main goal of any treatment for OSA is to make your quality of life better. If it’s not comfortable, then you won’t be able to use it.

That’s why it’s crucial to do as much research as you can on this subject. When you’re taking your next trip to the doctor, bring up all of these issues so that you can get what works for you.

Few Final Words:

OSA can be a daunting illness; however, with the treatments that exist today, you’ll be able to deal with it perfectly. The technology will only get better as time goes on, so don’t be disheartened by your diagnosis. We hope that this article has helped you to learn more about this illness.

In case you’re looking for more information about sleep apnea, then consider checking out our blogs. We have many detailed articles about everything related to sleep apnea, so take a look, and you might find some articles that are right for you.

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