Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

snoring man

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a medical condition that sees a patient experiencing breathing problems during periods of sleep. While this most often happens when the patient has their extended sleep (such as at night), episodes of OSA can also happen during naps.

During an episode of obstructive sleep apnea, the patient will seem to suddenly stop breathing or hold their breath. This can last for a number of painstaking seconds before they snort, grunt, or make another noise that causes them to suddenly inhale or exhale.
The reason that patients with OSA suddenly stop breathing is due to a temporary blockage in their airway, usually at the back of their throat. Once their body realizes that there is a temporary blockage, the respiratory system will work harder to push air through, resulting in the sudden gasp when the sleeping person realizes she needs to breathe again.
Exactly how badly someone suffers from sleep apnea varies between patients and is usually influenced by other external factors. While one patient may only experience intermittent episodes of OSA, another may have upwards of 30 episodes during a standard sleep period.

There are a variety of different sleep disorders, but obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA for short, is definitely one of the most common. In most cases, sleep disorders are named as such because they are characterized by interruptions in your sleep pattern that cause you to feel tired the next day.
This is certainly true for obstructive sleep apnea, which makes the sufferer’s regular breathing disturbed anything from once to a hundred times during the night. The symptoms and effects of OSA can have a profound impact on relationships as well as your day to day life.

The effects of obstructive sleep apnea

If you have a partner with OSA, the condition can affect both of you. Not only will the sufferer present with a variety of symptoms, but the partner of someone with obstructive sleep apnea can also experience loss of sleep, along with the stress of waiting for their loved one to recommence breathing.

Some of the most commonly cited effects of OSA include:

  • Tiredness/lethargy as a result of interrupted sleep
  • Brain “fog”
  • Depression
  • Loss of your sex drive
  • Memory problems
  • Weakened immune system meaning you are more likely to become sick from contagious diseases such as coughs and colds
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood sugar levels, which could lead to Type 2 diabetes
woman covers her ears with pillow because of snoring man

Causes of obstructive sleep apnea

OSA occurs when the flow of air between the mouth and lungs becomes obstructed. This temporary blockage is normally caused by the collapse of soft tissues at the back of the throat which then hang down across the airway, restricting the flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide or blocking it completely.

When the patient’s body recognizes there is a blockage it will work extra hard to force air past it. However, this still means that there are times where the flow of oxygen to the body is restricted and this can cause a range of symptoms.

There are a number of different factors that are believed to cause or contribute to the development of OSA. These include the following:


Being overweight is the most common denominator among patients who suffer from OSA, and this tends to be because additional weight means that there is excess soft tissue in and around the neck that will relax when you fall asleep, and collapse into the airway so that it becomes blocked.

Alcohol consumption

Alcohol is a relaxant and consuming a large amount before you sleep can make sleep apnea considerably more likely.

Recreational drugs

Equally, some illegal narcotics have relaxant side effects that increase your risk of developing OSA.

Prescription drugs

Many of us take prescription medication for one reason or another, but many of the drugs we take have a natural sedative effect, triggering episodes of obstructive sleep apnea.


Most of us are aware that smoking is bad news for our overall health and well being, but research shows that patients who smoke are also more likely to suffer from sleep apnea.

If you or someone you love suffers from the symptoms of sleep apnea, it is important that you seek the advice and support of a sleep apnea specialist, so that both of you and your partner can get better quality sleep.
To learn more about the sleep apnea treatment at Dentistry at Power Ranch, please call our office today at 480-405-1300.