Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

It is a relatively common condition where the walls of the throat relax and become too narrow during sleep, interrupting normal breathing.

This can lead to a sleep interrupted regularly, which can have a great impact on the quality of life and increases the risk of developing certain conditions.

Apnea e Hipopnea

There are two types of breathing interruption characteristic of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome:

  1. Apnea – where the muscles and soft tissues of the throat relax and collapse enough to cause a total blockage of the airways; It is called apnea when the air flow is blocked for 10 seconds or more.
  2. Hypopnea – a partial blockage of the airway that results in a reduction of airflow greater than 50% for 10 seconds or more.

People with this may experience repeated episodes of apnea and hypopnea throughout the night. These events can occur about once every one or two minutes in severe cases.

Like many people with episodes of both apnea and hypopnea, doctors sometimes refer to the condition of obstructive sleep apnea-hypopnea syndrome or AHODS.

The term “obstructive” distinguishes it from the rarer forms of sleep apnea, such as central sleep apnea, caused by the brain that does not send signals to respiratory muscles during sleep.


The symptoms are usually detected by a friend or a family member who notices problems while sleeping.

Signs in someone who sleeps may include:

  • Strong snoring
  • Noisy and difficult breathing.
  • Repeat short periods where breathing is interrupted by panting or snorting.

Some people may also experience night sweats and may wake up frequently during the night to urinate.

During an episode, the lack of oxygen awakens your brain to get you out of a deep sleep – either to sleep lighter or to wake up – so that your airway reopens and you can breathe normally.

These repeated sleep interruptions can make you feel very tired during the day. Usually, you have no memory of your breathing interrupted, so you may not be aware that you have a problem.

When to see the doctor

Consult your doctor if you think you might have this syndrome.

The doctor can review other possible reasons for your symptoms and can evaluate an evaluation of your sleep that will be carried out through a local sleep center.

As someone may not notice that they have the condition, it is often not diagnosed.


It is normal for the muscles and soft tissues of the throat to relax and contract to a certain degree while you sleep. For most people this does not cause respiratory problems.

In people with this syndrome, the airway has been reduced as a result of a number of factors, including:

Overweight – excess body fat increases the soft tissue mass in the neck, which can put a strain on the muscles of the throat.

Excess fat in the stomach can also lead to breathing difficulties, which can worsen the condition.

Being a man – it is not known why it is more common in men than in women, but it can be related to different distribution patterns of body fat.

Being 40 years of age or older – although it can occur at any age, it is more common in people over 40 years of age.

Having a large neck – men with a collar size greater than about 43 cm (17 inches) have a higher risk of developing this condition.

Take medications with a sedative effect – such as sleeping pills or tranquilizers.

Unusual internal structure of the neck – such as a narrow airway, large tonsils, adenoids or tongue, or a small lower jaw.

Drinking alcohol, particularly before going to sleep, can make snoring and sleep apnea worse.

Smoking – you are more likely to develop sleep apnea if you smoke.

Menopause (in women) – Changes in hormone levels during menopause can cause the muscles in the throat to relax more than usual.

Having a family history – there may be genes inherited from your parents that can make you more susceptible.

Nasal congestion – occurs most often in people with nasal congestion, such as a deviated septum, where the tissue in the nose that divides the two nostrils is bent to the side, or nasal polyps, which may be the result of Respiratory tract narrow.


It is a treatable condition, and there are a variety of treatment options that can reduce the symptoms. Treatment options include:

Changes in lifestyle – such as losing excess weight, reducing alcohol consumption and sleeping together.

Use a continuous positive pressure device in the airways – these devices prevent your airway from closing while you sleep by supplying a continuous supply of compressed air through a mask.

Use a mandibular advancement device – this rubber shield type device fits the teeth, keeping the jaw and tongue forward to increase the space in the back of the throat while sleeping.

Surgery can also be an option if it is thought to be the result of a physical problem that can be corrected surgically, such as an unusual internal structure of the neck.

However, for most people, surgery is not appropriate and can only be considered a last resort if other treatments have not helped.


The treatments mentioned above can often help control the symptoms, although the treatment will have to be for life in most cases.

If left untreated, it can have a significant impact on their quality of life, causing problems such as poor performance at work and at school and putting pressure on their relationships with others.

If left unchecked you can also increase your risk of:

  • Develop high blood pressure (hypertension).
  • Having a stroke or heart attack.
  • Develop an irregular heartbeat, such as atrial fibrillation.
  • Develop type 2 diabetes – although it is not clear if this is the result of an underlying cause, such as obesity.