Obstructive Sleep Apnea – An Airway Analogy

Corpus Christi

Imagine our throat and nose (airway) was like a garden hose.  When we breathe through our nose, air should move through our throat and into our lungs then back out again.  There are degrees of air flow from complete freedom of air movement to air being totally stopped.  Look at the examples below that use a water hose to help describe these degrees of airflow.

Normal Airway

Unobstructed hose represents an open airwayA normal airway should work just like a garden hose with the water turned on full.  Nothing should slow the water from moving through the hose and out.  In fact, there is hardly any noticeable pressure to the water or noise.  It is quiet and effortless. 




Partially obstructed hose still allows water through, represents an partially obstructed airway that causes snoringSnoring is a noise and the first sign that something is slowing (impeding) the water as it moves through the hose.  Since the volume of water is the same, it moves through the nose faster and produces sound--the Snoring.  Some increase in effort is also needed to breath.  It becomes work.



RERA / UARS:  Respiratory Effort Related Arousals and Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome

Hose that is largely obstructed forcing water out at a higher rate, representing a RERAIf you cover more of the mouth of the hose with your thumb, the water flow becomes more impeded and the water rushes out faster.  In the airway, this is like having a deviated nasal septum, nasal swelling from allergies and large tonsils and adenoids.  Obesity can also close the airway.  As these problems accumulate, the water makes even more effort to get out and the snoring grows much louder and just like your thumb over the end of the water hose: breathing is harder, in fact it is now hard work.  You begin to wake often and have troubled and un-refreshing sleep.  Day time tiredness is a significant sign of this problem.


Hose that is almost completely blocked. Very little water is able to get through, representing hypopnea.When you almost stop the flow of air through the nose and throat then the volume of air you breath is decreased.  Oxygen concentration in your blood stream begins to drop below healthy levels.  Snoring can be interrupted  and much louder.  You may even notice more physical symptoms like high blood pressure and EDS (Erectile Dysfunction Syndrome).


Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Bent hose that allows no water through, representing obstructive sleep apneaSleep Apnea (literally meaning "without air") it is like crimping the water hose to completely stop the flow of water.  As your blood oxygen levels drop, the brain sends special emergency signals to your lungs with the command to “breath”.  In some cases the signals do not work properly and creates a very dangerous type of Sleep Apnea called Central Sleep Apnea.  This is like turning the faucet off completely.  Untreated Sleep Apnea is associated with increased risks for diabetes, metabolic syndrome, stroke, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure premature death.

Only a specially trained physician certified by the AASM (American Academy of Sleep Medicine) can diagnose Sleep disturbances and pathology listed above.  The diagnosis will usually come from a test called a PSG (poly sonomogram) that measures snoring, RERAs, hyponeas and apneas.  It will also look for Central Apneas. 

If you want to know more and possibly be referred to a Sleep Specialist for testing and diagnosis, contact Dr. Don Lowrance for an initial consultation.  Dr Lowrance has offices in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He treats “diagnosed” airway problems with removable appliances that are used in combination with a CPAP or may even replace the use of the CPAP. Call (361) 851-8274.


Sleep Apnea is a medical condition that must be diagnosed by a Sleep Physician with an overnight sleep study (PSG). Sleep Dentists work with the physician to manage the Sleep Apnea with appropriate oral appliances. Dentists cannot treat Sleep Apnea without a referral from a Sleep Physician.

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