Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which pauses in breathing occur during sleep because the airway has become narrowed, blocked, or floppy.
A pause in breathing is referred to as an apnea episode. Almost everyone has brief apnea episodes while they sleep.
This article discusses obstructive sleep apnea in adults.
Central sleep apnea Sleep disorders
Sleep apnea - obstructive; Apnea - obstructive sleep apnea syndrome; Sleep-disordered breathing; OSA
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
All of the muscles in your body become more relaxed during sleep. This includes the muscles that help keep the airway open and allow air to flow into the lungs.
Normally, the upper throat still remains open enough during sleep to let air pass by. However, some people have a narrower throat area. When the muscles in their upper throat relax during sleep, their breathing can stop for a period of time (often more than 10 seconds). This is called apnea.
The snoring in people with obstructive sleep apnea is caused by the air trying to squeeze through the narrowed or blocked airway. However, everyone who snores does not have sleep apnea. Other factors may also increase your risk:
- Certain shapes of the palate or airway that cause the airway to be narrower or collapse more easily
- Large tonsils and adenoids in children that can block the airway
- Large neck or collar size (17 inches or more in men and 16 inches or more in women)
- Large tongue, which may fall back and block the airway
Sleeping on the back also increases sleep apnea episodes.
Review Date: 09/15/2010
Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.