Given that Obstructive Sleep Apnea causes intermittent hypoxia it poses a greater threat to the elderly because it impacts brain structure and function.

Q:What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?


Dr:It is a disorder characterised by brief pauses in breathing while sleeping caused by a blockage in the upper air way.


Q:Is snoring a symptom of Obstructive Sleep Apnea?


Dr:Yes. Loud snoring, gasping, and snorting while sleeping are amongst the main symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea. However, not everyone who snores has the condition. It is better to get it checked out, just to be sure.


Q:What causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea?


Dr:A naturally enlarged tonsil or having a large tongue can restrict the airway while the person sleeps, and this leads to Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Oral Infections can also cause the tonsils and adenoids to swell thereby causing a blockage of the airway. Obesity is also associated with Obstructive Sleep Apnea.


Q:How does Obstructive Sleep Apnea impact day-to-day life?


Dr:A disrupted sleep cycle can have several impacts on one’s life. The person may be irritable due to lack of sleep. He/she may feel sluggish and sleepy throughout the day, thereby reducing their productivity at work or school. Sleep deprivation can cause memory issues and mood disorders as well. A person with sleep apnea is at the risk of having an accident while driving. Children with Obstructive Sleep Apnea may have difficulty concentrating at school and will eventually show a drop in grades.


Q:Can Obstructive Sleep Apnea lead to other health complications?


Dr:When the airway is constricted, there is a drop in oxygen supply which puts more stress on the heart. Over time this condition can weaken the heart muscles. Untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea increases a person’s risk for high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia, diabetes, heart attack and stroke.


Q:How is Obstructive Sleep Apnea treated?


Dr:In children the most common cause for Obstructive Sleep Apnea is an infection in the tonsils and adenoids. This can be treated and resolved through medication. In some cases, it might be required to surgically remove the swollen/enlarged tonsils and adenoids. However, in cases where medications and surgery are ineffective, Obstructive Sleep Apnea is treated using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) through a mask and tube that keeps the upper airway open while the person sleeps. CPAP has proven to be a remarkably effective method to treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Other sleep apnea dental devices are also available to help with the condition.


Q:Is the CPAP device painful or uncomfortable to use?


Dr:There is no pain while using the CPAP machine. But yes, in the beginning it can cause discomfort. It takes time getting used to sleeping with a mask and tubing attached to your nose. But keeping long-term benefits in mind, do not give up. In a few days, you will be sleeping fine and undisturbed.


Q:What is the difference between Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Central Sleep Apnea?


Dr:Obstructive Sleep Apnea is caused by a blockage in the upper airway. Central Sleep Apnea is caused by a delay in the brain’s signal to breathe while sleeping. It is a neuromuscular condition. Excessive, loud Snoring is the symptom for both types of sleep apnea.


Q:Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea an age-related condition?


Dr:Not necessarily. However, children between the ages of 3 to 6 and also adults over the age of 65 are more prone to Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Given that Obstructive Sleep Apnea causes intermittent hypoxia it poses a greater threat to the elderly because it impacts brain structure and function. CPAP has been found to be highly effective in treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea in elderly patients.


Dr Major G Vasanth Kumar (Retd) Consultant-Ent at Dr.Kamakshi Memorial Hospital
Reviewed By:



MS ENT, DNB ENT, Fellow Head & Neck Surg Onco