Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS) is on the spectrum of sleep disordered breathing between simply snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. It involves upper airway turbulence that occurs as a result decreasing airway diameter.
Sleep disorders and obstructive breathing during sleep develop over time. At the extreme end of the sleep disordered breathing spectrum is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and at the other end is mild snoring. Mild snoring rarely has a negative effect on health; however, if it gets worse over time, it could lead to a host of medical concerns, including a diagnosis of upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS)
It is important to note that UARS will eventually progress to OSA if left untreated. OSA carries with it a dangerous list of health risks and concerns including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
UARS starts as simple snoring, harmless to most people. Snoring is the vibrating sounds when air passes through the loosened tissues. It is the first sign that there is some sort of obstruction in the respiratory system. The greater the obstruction, the greater the airway resistance and the louder the snoring.
Upper airway resistance syndrome occurs when mild snoring becomes worse and leads to symptoms such as daytime sleepiness and fatigue.
Left untreated, UARS can lead to many consequences, including:
- Chronic sleep disturbances (insomnia)
- Difficulty falling and staying asleep
- Frequent awakenings throughout the night
- Weight gain
The causes of UARS are identifiable in that they are similar to obstructive sleep apnea. The loose or relaxed fatty tissues in the throat collapsing in combined with narrowed airways causes UARS. Additionally, the tongue falling to the back of the throat during sleep could cause an obstruction and difficulty breathing. Due to greater breathing effort needed to get through the obstructions, people with UARS may have heavy, labored breathing rather than the loud snoring sounds that are often associated with the condition.
The brain is conditioned to arouse itself from deep sleep to compensate for the additional effort needed to breathe. When this happens, it is impossible for the brain to perform the necessary restorative tasks that take place during normal sleep cycles.
While there are clearly similarities and connections between UARS and OSA, there are also some identifiable differences. The biggest difference is that pauses and decreases in breathing that are present in OSA patients are virtually absent or very low in those with UARS. Obesity is a common concern in those with OSA, but people with UARS are generally of average weight. UARS can affect anyone of any ethnicity or gender; however, OSA is far more common in Caucasian men.
Treatment for UARS should be considered the moment one realizes snoring has progressed and daytime symptoms are present. Methods for treating UARS are similar to OSA, but differ in that CPAP (the most common treatment for OSA) is usually a last resort in those with upper airway resistance syndrome.
Firstly, if UARS is a concern, lifestyle and behavior changes are the first to be considered for treatment. Practicing good sleep hygiene, eating a proper diet, and getting a good amount of exercise will go a long way to reducing the symptoms. Further, there are dental and oral appliances that can be used to keep the airways open. These are often recommended along with the above-mentioned lifestyle and behavioral changes.
If snoring has become a progressive issue, with daytime sleepiness and fatigue symptoms present, then it is advisable to speak to a physician as soon as possible to avoid progression to an OSA diagnosis.