What is obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)?

Obstructive sleep apnoea is a condition where, during sleep, the muscles of the airway relax and cause a temporary closure of the upper airway (apnoea), this can also lead to a temporary dip in oxygen levels.  If this happens excessively during sleep, this can disrupt the quality of sleep an individual has and can lead to symptoms of: excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty in concentrating, unrefreshing sleep, headaches in the morning, changes in your mood, choking or gasping during the night or loss of libido.  Your bed partner may notice periods of you stopping breathing in your sleep.

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How do I know if I suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)?

There are many conditions that may contribute to excessive daytime sleepiness, one of the most common conditions is obstructive sleep apnoea. The gold-standard test to see if someone has sleep apnoea is an overnight sleep study in a clinic using Polysomnography (PSG). Sounds made in the throat (since some people don't know they snore), movement, oxygen levels, heart rate and brain waves are recorded and assessed as you sleep. It can be difficult and take months to get an appointment in a sleep clinic due to their rarity and the test can be cumbersome and invasive.

Obstructive sleep apnoea can now be tested very easily in the comfort of your own home using a home based sleep study or home sleep apnoea test (HSAT).  

How common is OSA?

Studies have shown that OSA can occur in up to 24% of the population (4), (5), (6).  In the UK it is thought that there are at least 1.5 million undiagnosed individuals with OSA (British Lung Foundation (BLF)).  OSA is more common in individuals who have a higher body mass index, are older and it is more common in men. It is a myth that only men suffer with apnoea as women can develop it too especially after menopause.

What are the consequences of untreated OSA?

Apart from the symptoms of OSA, there are potentially serious complications including an increased risk of high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease such as irregular heart beat and heart failure, diabetes, kidney disease and stroke. 

As some people are very sleepy during the day from untreated OSA this may cause difficulty in concentrating at work and may lead to being off sick or loss of employment.

Individuals may potentially fall asleep whilst driving resulting in a motor vehicle accident, in the UK it is estimated that if everyone who had moderate or severe OSA is treated we could potentially save 40,000 road traffic accidents a year (BLF report).  

What treatment options are there?

Treatment will depend on the severity of OSA and the symptoms.  Treatments include lifestyle measures such as losing weight, avoiding alcohol and regular exercise. 

Mandibular Advancement Devices are used to treat mild to moderate OSA. These devices all work in a similar way to try and bring the jaw forwards and make room at the back of the mouth, opening up airways.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is often used to treat moderate or severe OSA.  This treatment is a mask that is fitted over the nose or nose and mouth that delivers positive pressure to the upper airway and keeps it open during sleep, stopping the apnoeas. 

Milder forms of OSA can be treated with a mandibular advancement splint – this is a device that is worn like a removable brace or mouth-guard that again helps to keep the upper airway open.


OSA can be tested very easily at home using a home sleep apnoea test