What is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

Normally when we sleep, muscles hold our airway open. If these muscles relax, the airway can become narrowed or even completely closed (obstructed), preventing normal breathing.

The closure of the airway, called obstructive apnoea causes the affected person to wake up. Once awake their airway opens and normal breathing resumes allowing the person to quickly go back to sleep only to have the airways relax, initiating the next apnea.

This sequence of events may be repeated over and over again - up to hundreds of times a night! This condition is known as Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA).

As a result of the continual awakenings caused by OSA, those affected suffer from severe sleep deprivation and fatigue. Unfortunately, people with this condition are often completely unaware that they have been woken up throughout the night and are oblivious to the reason for their tiredness.

Up to 9% of the middle-aged population has OSA. Loud snoring punctuated with pauses can be a sign that maybe someone is effected by this condition. Being overweight may also increase the likelihood of having OSA along with a family history of this condition, and structural abnormalities of the upper airways.

Untreated OSA may lead to serious health problems such as high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. OSA also causes memory loss, poor concentration, morning headaches and sexual dysfunction.

Sleepy drivers are the cause of many accidents on our roads.

Video Information

The signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas overlap, sometimes making the type of sleep apnea more difficult to determine. The most common signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas include: 

    • Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
    • Loud snoring, which is usually more prominent in obstructive sleep apnoea
    • Episodes of breathing cessation during sleep witnessed by another person
    • Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath, which more likely indicates central sleep apnoea
    • Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
    • Morning headache
    • Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
    • Attention problem

    Many people don't think of snoring as a sign of something potentially serious, and not everyone who has sleep apnea snores. But be sure to talk to your doctor if you experience loud snoring, especially snoring that's punctuated by periods of silence.

    Sleep Apnoea and the Heart
    Presented by Dr Stephen Jennison, Cardiologist & Head of Medicine, Whangarei Hospital