Specialist care for all ear nose and throat conditions

Sleep Apnoea

Snoring and breathing problems during sleep

Sleep apnoea is a condition where you momentarily stop breathing when you're asleep. Left untreated, sleep apnoea can lead to a person regularly experiencing breathing problems during sleep, and can mean the brain is not getting enough oxygen.

Snoring may be a symptom of sleep apnoea. It happens when the soft palate and tissue in the mouth, nose or throat vibrates. The causes for snoring in children can be different to adults, so if your child is snoring a lot you may wish to put your mind at ease by speaking to one of our ear, nose and throat specialists about sleep apnoea in children.

Obstructive sleep apnoea

If you have obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), you’re not alone. It’s the more common sleep condition, where muscles in your throat will relax during the night, causing your breathing to become interrupted. Central sleep apnoea is a much rarer form of the condition, caused by the brain failing to send signals to the breathing muscles during sleep.

Apnoea and hypopnoea

If you have OSA, you may experience one or both of these types of interrupted breathing.

  • apnoea – muscles and soft tissues in your throat will relax, causing an obstruction to your airway; it’s called an apnoea when your airflow is blocked for 10 seconds or more.
  • hypopnoea – this is where your airway is partially blocked, resulting in more than 50% airflow reduction for 10 seconds or more.


You may find you have repeated episodes of apnoea and hypopnoea during the night, and in the most severe cases these can happen once every 1 to 2 minutes.

Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

It’s unlikely you’ll be aware of your own breathing problems during sleep, and often a partner or family member who sleeps near to you may be the first to spot your symptoms.

These might include:

Loud snoring
Shortness of breath or noisy breathing
Frequent waking
Night sweats

When you stop breathing, the lack of oxygen will fire signals to your brain that’ll bring you out of your deep sleep, either to a lighter sleep or to being awake. Your airways will then reopen, so you can breathe normally again.

Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

It’s normal for muscles in the throat to partially relax and collapse during sleep, and this does not usually cause breathing problems. However, if you have OSA, your airway will be compromised due to a number or reasons, and these could include:


  • High BMI – being overweight increases the amount of soft tissue in the neck, which can put pressure on the throat muscles
  • Being 40 years of age or over, and male – although OSA can occur at any life stage, it's more common in males who are over 40
  • Regularly taking sedative medicines – sleeping tablets can cause muscles to relax more
  • Having an atypical inner neck structure – large tonsils, adenoids or tongue, a small jaw or a narrow airway
  • Alcohol – drinking alcohol, particularly before going to sleep, can make the symptoms of sleep apnoea worse
  • The menopause (in women) – hormone changes may cause the throat muscles to relax more than usual
  • Having a family history of OSA – there may be genetic factors that make you more susceptible to obstructive sleep apnoea

Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

The treatment for sleep apnoea depends on its cause, and with the right approach, obstructive sleep apnoea treatment can be very successful. Our ENT specialists tend to take a multi-factorial approach, looking at all areas that will help you to manage your symptoms. 

Surgery  This may be considered if your OSA is the result of a physical problem that surgery can correct, or if adenoids or tonsils are large. But it’s not usually necessary.

CPAP Device  A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device is a piece of equipment worn as a mask that delivers air into your airway so it doesn’t close while you sleep.

Mandibular advancement splint  A brace worn at night that moves the jaw forward opening the back of the throat to allow air flow can be very effective.

Lifestyle  A number of lifestyle changes such as losing excess weight, or adjusting your sleeping position, can be extremely effective.

Talk to a specialist about your breathing problems during sleep

The ENT specialists at the Medical Chambers Kensington understand the impact interrupted sleep can have on daily life, and want to help you find the most effective ways to manage your condition. They have experience and expertise in all areas of sleep apnoea, and will support you in your journey to sleeping well once more. To learn more about what we can do for you, please telephone 020 7244 4200 or make an appointment online.