What causes sleep apnoea?

In the vast majority of adults with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), the airway collapses due to an innate weakness in the tissues comprising the upper airway.

In a significant minority of adults with OSA, a physical anatomical anomaly is found to be blocking the windpipe – the tongue, the tonsils or the uvula (the little piece of flesh at the very back of the throat). The most common cause in these adults is a collapse of the tongue backwards into the airway.

Reviewed by Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, specialist neuropsychiatrist in sleep disorders at The London Sleep Centre and The Constantia Sleep Centre. FRCPsych. April 2018.

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