Obstructive sleep apnoea is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition. Dr Linda Schachter talks about causes, risk factors, symptoms, potential dangers and treatment.


Hello, I’m Dr Linda Schachter, consulting respiratory and sleep physician specialising in obesity and sleep. I have just recently joined the Medical Advisory Board of the Virtual Respiratory Centre and today I would like to share with you my insights on obstructive sleep apnoea.

Obstructive sleep apnoea is a serious, potentially life threatening condition, characterised by repetitive collapse of the upper airway during sleep. Obstruction of the airway occurs when the muscles which control the tongue and soft palette relax, causing the airway to narrow, when then leads to snoring and either partial or complete blockage of the upper airway.

Breathing can often stop, from anything between 10 seconds to two minutes. At this point the brain reacts to the oxygen deficiency and alerts the body to wake up. In most cases the sufferer is unaware of this as the arousal is slight. As this can happen several hundred times during the night, it is enough to fragment sleep, causing the sufferer to feel sleepy and lethargic the next day.

Risk factors for sleep apnoea include being overweight, male, older, with a family history. Abnormalities of the nose and throat may also predispose people to sleep apnoea.

Sleep apnoea can also affect children, particularly if they have enlarged tonsils.

The symptoms of sleep apnoea include choking or gasping during sleep, loud repetitive snoring, recurrent awakenings overnight, unrefreshing sleep, excessive day-time sleepiness, impaired concentration, erratic mood swings, and increased irritability. Loss of sex drive and impotence can also occur.

Early recognition and treatment of sleep apnoea is important to help reduce your risk of complications such as car accidents, heart attack and stroke. Sleep apnoea is diagnosed by a simple sleep study which can now be performed at home.

Nasal CPAP is the most effective treatment for sleep apnoea. The patient wears a mask over the face during sleep. Air is blown in under gentle pressure to help open the upper airway and stop snoring. Special mouth guards that reposition the lower jaw and tongue are sometimes helpful. Some patients with sleep apnoea need surgery, but this is not effective for most patients.

For some people lifestyle changes such as weight loss can be enough to improve sleep apnoea. Even weight loss of 5-10 kilograms may be effective.

If you’re experiencing tiredness or sleepiness during the day, loud snoring or pauses in breathing during sleep or any other sleeping difficulties, make an appointment to discuss these problems with your doctor.

Thank you for watching.

More information

beautiful-sleeping-woman-100x100 For information about this and other sleep related content, visit Sleep: An Overview.