Patients with obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, stop breathing periodically while they are asleep. This condition is caused by a physical obstruction in the person’s tongue, nose or throat. OSA is associated with snoring, but not everyone who snores has OSA. Between the snoring and the pauses in breathing, OSA is disruptive to the people who have it and the people they share a room with.

Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

In addition to sleeping poorly, people with OSA may experience symptoms such as frequent napping, low energy, mood swings, decreased libido, headaches, constant tiredness, and a sore throat. OSA is also associated with high blood pressure, low oximetry, irregular heartbeat, and unexpected death. Over many years, OSA can result in chronic sleep deprivation and its dangers, such as impaired driving. When OSA is not treated, you may experience complications such as lung and heart disease and weight gain.

Treatment Options

Doctors may recommend treatments such as weight loss, upper and lower jaw surgery, and supine sleeping to reduce OSA symptoms. However, the most effective treatments are continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) delivered by a machine and the uvulopalatopharyngoplasty procedure.

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Most doctors use the CPAP treatment before surgery. CPAP has a high rate of success. The machine delivers a constant pressurized stream of air through a face mask worn while you sleep. The long-term results of CPAP include improved quality of sleep and fewer disruptions in breathing.

Unfortunately, some patients cannot tolerate CPAP, which leaves the surgical therapy as the only effective solution. Although uvulopalatopharyngoplasty is not the most frequently used treatment for OSA, thousands of people have experienced success with this therapy. There are different techniques for uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, and success depends on the technique used by the surgeon. While the surgery does not cure OSA, it does reduce symptom severity and frequency for 50 to 60 percent of patients. The surgical treatment may also greatly reduce or even get rid of the snoring. Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty is performed under general anesthesia. Patients planning on the procedure will spend a night in the hospital under observation. The most common side effect is a sore throat, which can last for up to two weeks. Most patients who have the surgery experience significant improvements in sleep and overall well-being.

How is OSA Different from Snoring?

About 30 to 50 percent of people have experienced regular snoring at some point during their lives. Snoring is associated with heavy breathing and results from vibrations of structures around the tongue. With snoring, a person experiences sleep disturbances, episodes of startling themselves awake, and annoyance of their bed partner. With OSA, there is more harm to one’s health because your breathing actually stops during repeated events every night. At most, snoring is categorized as a social or marital problem, while OSA is a medical problem. If you have loud snoring, you should be checked for OSA. You can have a sleep study done to detect if you have times when you stop breathing. Treatments are available for OSA and snoring.