When you are asleep, the muscles in the upper airways (nose, mouth, throat and trachea) relax. If they relax too much, the airways can become constricted. This means that many people begin to snore. Sometimes it can even become difficult to breathe. If the airways are blocked completely, breathing is temporarily stopped (apnea).
Obstructive sleep apnoea is the most common symptom of sleep apnea, and means that breathing stops repeatedly during sleep. In some cases breathing can halt several hundred times every night.
Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) is due to episodes of airway obstruction during the night that produce symptoms during daytime due to lack of sleep. The apnoea attacks lead to oxygen deficiency which in the long term can lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure, myocardial infarction and stroke.
Sleep apnea is a very common but still largely under-diagnosed condition. The typical OSAS patient is a greatly overweight man over the age of 40, but anyone can be affected.
The treatment includes weight reduction where justified, avoidance of alcohol and sleeping tablets and where appropriate use of what is known as a mandibular advancement splint. The next step in treatment is the use of a CPAP appliance that creates continuous overpressure in the airways so that they cannot collapse, or a bi-level device that forces air into the airways at different pressures depending on whether the patient breathes in or out.