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A to Z: Obstructive Sleep Apnea

May also be called: OSA, Obstructive Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (AP-nee-uh) is a sleep disorder that causes a person to stop breathing temporarily during sleep.

More to Know

During sleep, everyone has brief pauses in their breathing pattern called apneas. Usually this is completely normal. Sometimes, though, apneas may be be longer and happen often, making breathing irregular and abnormal. There are three types of apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed. Obstructive apnea is caused by an obstruction of the airway (such as enlarged tonsils and adenoids). This is most likely to happen during sleep because that’s when the soft tissue at the back of the throat is most relaxed.

The most common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea is snoring followed by pauses or gasping. Other symptoms include labored breathing while sleeping, restless sleep, sleeping in unusual positions, and daytime sleepiness. If it goes untreated, obstructive sleep apnea can eventually lead to heart problems.

Treatment for obstructive sleep apnea involves keeping the throat open to aid air flow, such as with adenotonsillectomy (surgical removal of the tonsils and adenoids) or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which is delivered by having someone wear a nose mask while sleeping.

Keep in Mind

Although extended pauses in breathing can be serious, after a doctor does a complete evaluation and makes a diagnosis, most cases of apnea can be treated or managed with surgery, medicine, or monitoring devices. Many cases of apnea go away on their own.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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