The figure shown above illustrates a 10 second apnea event. Note the collapse of the tongue on both the soft palate and the airway.


Sleep apnea is a dangerous, potentially life-threatening condition. It is characterized by interruptions of breathing during sleep. The tongue relaxes during sleep and collapses on the airway.  These periodic obstructions of breathing during sleep can compromise a good quality of life and are related to other serious medical conditions such as excessive daytime sleepiness, depression, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. It occurs in all age groups including children, but is most prevalent in older adults.

Sleep apnea is a disorder unique to human beings. Speech is a special characteristic that distinguishes humans from lower animals. The articulation of speech requires a compliant, collapsible airway. The throat or pharynx is the compliant part of the airway that facilitates speech in humans, and collapses in sleep apnea. Air passes through the nose, mouth and pharynx on its way to the lungs. The pharynx is the conduit for two life supporting functions - swallowing and breathing. Breathing cannot occur simultaneously with swallowing in adult human beings. Normally the muscles of the pharynx maintain the open airway and close it only during swallowing and regurgitation. The exception is sleep apnea, a condition where the pharynx and tongue malfunction, collapse the airway and interrupt breathing during sleep.


The video playing above illustrates a ten second episode of obstructive sleep apnea.  Notice the tongue collapsing on both the soft palate and the back of the throat.   Observe how interminably long the apneic event seems to last.  Remember that ten seconds is the minimum duration for an event to be scored as an apnea.  Some apneic events can last 60 seconds or longer.  Think of the consequences to the brain and heart of an 80 - 100% reduction of oxygen for 30 - 60 seconds.  40 apneic events per hour is regarded as "severe" and sometimes we see apnea-hypopnea indexes in the range of 80 - 100 per hour.  Obstructive sleep apnea has very dangerous health consequences

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