Skip to main content

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious disorder that causes a person’s breathing to repeatedly stop and start during sleep. With obstructive sleep apnea – the most common form of sleep apnea – throat muscles intermittently relax, blocking the airway. The blockage means that your diaphragm and chest muscles must work harder to get air into the lungs. You may snore, gasp for breath, or snort while you are sleeping.

UTHealth Neurosciences specialists have the experience and expertise to diagnose and create a comprehensive treatment plan for sleep apnea. Treatment might include continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), other therapies, or possibly a minimally invasive procedure.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Causes

There are a few different reasons why your throat muscles might relax too much during sleep. The muscles involved can include those around the roof of the mouth, the tonsils, and the tongue. Thickened tissue of excessive fat storage in that area could also be narrowing and restricting airflow. Tonsils could be enlarged, a patient’s neck could be wide, or there could be a dental issue, such as an overbite.

Smoking, drug use, and allergies are considered contributing factors. Obesity is also a major risk factor, as more than half of those diagnosed are considered overweight or obese.

Signs of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Common signs of obstructive sleep apnea include fatigue, dry mouth, sore throat, headaches forgetfulness, night sweats, and snoring. A child with obstructive sleep apnea might also wet the bed, choke, drool, or grind teeth during the night.

If you share a bed with someone, your partner may likely identify the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea before you do.


A doctor may examine your throat, nose, and mouth to look for extra tissue or other obstructions. A sleep specialist will likely conduct a nocturnal polysomnogram, or an overnight sleep study that monitors movement and breathing during the night. A home sleep test might also be prescribed depending on they symptoms.


The most common and successful method of treatment is a CPAP machine.  The mask and machine help increase air pressure just enough to keep open upper airway passages.  While it can be cumbersome for some patients, the evolving technology successfully treats most cases.

Upper Airway Stimulation may be available for patients who cannot tolerate a CPAP. With this treatment, a thin impulse generator would be implanted under the skin in the chest. The device helps stimulate movements of the tongue when it detects a lapse in breathing.

Several surgical options also exist, depending on the exact cause of your obstructive sleep apnea. Surgeons may perform a uvulopalatopharyngoplasty to remove tissue from the back of your mouth or throat. Tonsils or adenoids may also be removed. In some cases, the tissue can be removed by laser.

Doctors might recommend that patients with obstructive sleep apnea adopt some lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or regular exercise. Limiting alcohol and quitting smoking is also recommended. Nasal decongestant or allergy medicine can also help reduce symptoms.

Sleep Disorders

Contact Us

At UTHealth Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.