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According to an article from the Norwich Bulletin, incidences of obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is on the rise in the U.S.  Increasing obesity rates and an aging population are the primary contributing factors in this disturbing trend. During an OSA episode, the throat muscles relax during sleep, causing the airway to collapse. This causes snoring and eventual cessation of airflow and decreased oxygen level.

The condition is most severe in patients who sleep on their back, due to the fact that gravity causes the tongue to fall backwards, increasing the potential for the airway to narrow or close. When a person awakens during an apnea episode, the airway opens and normal breathing and oxygen levels resumes. Overweight or obese individuals, persons with high blood pressure, men over 40 and women over 50 have the highest risk for OSA. Men with a neck size of 17 or larger and women with a neck size of 16 and larger are also at a greater risk.

Symptoms of OSA are frequent and loud snoring, gasping and/or choking in sleep, daytime sleepiness, morning headaches and difficulty concentrating. Left untreated, OSA can cause cardiovascular problems, diabetes and poor blood pressure. OSA has also been recently linked to an increased risk of memory loss and dementia in elderly women.

OSA is typically diagnosed through a monitored sleep study using a home monitor or done in a sleep laboratory. Treatment may involve weight management, delivering a stream through a mask during sleep, oral appliances and surgery depending on the severity of the condition. Successful treatment of OSA can improve a patient’s sleep quality and quality of life, decrease daytime sleepiness and prevent progression of several medical conditions.