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Some people are more prone to airway obstruction — partial or complete — during sleep. Complete obstruction during sleep is known as obstructive sleep apnea, while partial airway obstruction during sleep is known as upper airway resistance syndrome.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that requires immediate medical attention. If neglected, sleep apnea can cause life-threatening complications. This problem affects 2% to 4% of the middle-aged population. When airway obstruction occurs, blood oxygen levels decrease and carbon dioxide levels increase. The brain acts to regulate breathing, which can lead to the patient briefly waking up. This can happen multiple times, and every time the patient wakes up, the brain sends signals to the upper airway muscles to open the airway. Re-established breathing is usually accompanied by snoring.
Although recurrent awakening is important to restore breathing, it prevents the individual from having enough sleep and affects sleep efficiency.
Polysomnography, a sleep test, is usually done to diagnose sleep apnea. The test measures brain waves, muscle tension, eye movement, respiration, oxygen levels in the blood, and audio monitoring (for snoring, gasping, etc.).
Obstructive sleep apnea can be primarily treated in a similar manner to snoring, with recommendations such as:
Not all snoring is linked to obstructive sleep apnea. By definition, snoring is the hoarse or harsh sounds that occur during breathing (usually inhalation) when air flows past relaxed tissues in the throat, causing the tissues to vibrate. Snoring can be a problem without airway obstruction and without affecting sleep stability. Called primary snoring, this is more of a social problem than a medical issue.
To control snoring, one should: