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Information for Patients

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)? What Causes Snoring?


  • OSA is a disorder in which patients stop breathing while they sleep due to an obstruction of their airway.


  • The upper airway is surrounded by many muscles, the largest being the tongue. When a patient enters the deeper stages of the sleep cycle, these muscles relax and lose their tonicity which ultimately leads to snoring and potentially OSA.


  • Snoring is due to the vibration of these upper airway relaxed muscles. If these muscles relax further, this can result in a collapse of the airway which essentially closes off the throat and thus prevents air from reaching the lungs. 


  • If a patient’s airway collapses and results in a cessation of their breathing, their brain will sense the lack of oxygen reaching the lungs and will respond by arousing the patient to a lighter stage of sleep. It is within these lighter stages of sleep that a patient regains the ability to contract your throat and upper airway muscles thus allowing the opening of the airway and resumption of breathing.


  • This cycle of suffocation (apnea) and arousal to resume breathing can happen hundreds of times within the course of a night for a given patient. Oddly enough, patients do NOT usually awake from this arousal, thus leaving many patients unaware that they are suffering from OSA.


  • OSA has been shown to cause excessive daytime sleepiness, mental impairment, cardiovascular problems, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, impotence, acid reflux, and many other undesirable side effects.

This image shows a normal airway versus an obstructed airway during sleep, which causes snoring and sleep apnea.

Quick Facts on Sleep Apnea and Snoring


  • 1 in every 2 adults snore 


  • 1 in every 4 adults suffers from sleep apnea


  • However, fewer than 10% who suffer from sleep apnea have been diagnosed

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